Innovation drives the creation of the world’s first fossil-free orchard



Sean Lysaght, director of GSI Partners Christchurch, Sonya Whitney, executive director of rural insurance solutions at Vero, and Mike Casey, owner of Forest Lodge Orchard, worked together to create an innovative insurance policy that covers the cherry orchard Mike’s 100% Electric for power outage losses.

Mike Casey, owner of the world’s first fossil fuel-free orchard located in Central Otago, will share his pioneering journey to fully electrify his six-hectare orchard at the New Zealand Agricultural Show in Christchurch on November 10.

All of Forest Lodge Orchard’s business operations, from New Zealand’s first antifreeze electric fans to irrigation, tools and vehicles, are powered by electricity and via energy generated and stored on the farm at the using solar energy and batteries.

Mike is currently testing a converted electric tractor and expects New Zealand’s first electric tractor to be delivered next year. He says it’s important not to let perfection be the enemy when it comes to making changes on the farm.

“We have to start by looking at the choices we make for the things we can control, like the equipment we use on our farms. I have gone ahead and done everything I can to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels, but farmers can also take a step-by-step approach if they want to start down the same path.

One option for a gradual change is to replace old equipment at the end of its life with new electrical equipment, Mike explains.

“I know not everyone can replace everything at once, especially if they’re not starting from scratch like we did, so I think another way of looking at it is when things must be replaced.”

During his presentation, Mike will provide detailed data showing the payback periods and the amount of carbon saved for the full electrification of his farm, including upgrades for grid connection and the purchase of antifreeze fans, the conversion and equipment of the tractor, an electric sprayer and an electric vehicle.

“For full electrification of everything on the farm, there is a seven-year gradual payback period and a 13-year full payback period.”

The orchard harvested its first harvest of fossil fuel-free cherries last year and Mike says the key to improving the return on investment from electrification and solar power is getting a premium product to market that consumers are willing to pay more and back it up with hard evidence.

To help other farmers with this task, Mike has created a new NZ0 certification which is independently audited by AsureQuality. This certification has strict rules regarding fossil fuels, which means that food producers cannot offset their emissions but must instead provide evidence of change regarding the use of fossil fuels.

“This is an essential part of providing consumers with genuine certification, as the words ‘carbon neutral’ do not necessarily mean consumers are getting a sustainable product.”

One of the main hurdles in Mike setting up an all-electric operation was finding an insurance product that would cover the risk of power outages for his antifreeze electric fans during the vulnerable spring growing months when young cherries must be protected from severe frosts in the center. Otago.

To be completely free of fossil fuels, Mike wanted to avoid using a diesel-powered backup generator, struggled to find an insurance provider that would protect his business against the risk to his crops posed by power outages until he began working with GSI Insurance Partners Christchurch Director Sean Lysaght and Vero to create an innovative insurance policy that met his unique needs.

“When you are determined to create real change and do it at scale, you need to remove the blocks that might prevent others from following you.”

When Sean started working with Mike to create an insurance product for unique circumstances, he needed to find an insurance underwriter who would be willing to think creatively about the situation.

“We approached Vero, and they were willing to work with us to create an innovative new insurance policy that would cover Mike for any product loss due to power outages.”

After spending about 18 months fine-tuning the insurance policy that used interruption coverage as the basis, Sean and Vero created a solution that fit Mike’s unique situation. Sean believes that more and more farmers will be looking for tailored insurance solutions in the future as they move towards implementing sustainable agriculture to mitigate environmental issues.

Mike will be speaking in the Vero tent at the New Zealand Agricultural Show at 10am on Thursday 10th November. He is also happy for farmers to visit his cherry orchard and has already shown his farm to over 1000 farmers.

“I’m always keen to share what I’ve done with others. If we can plant a seed of change, the climate will thank us later.

© Scoop Media

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