Frostguard, the innovative machine for frost protection.
There is a new machine roaming the orchards in the dead of night. Ok, not every night, just those important nights when unseasonably cold spring mornings threaten to play havoc with new buds, and the fresh signs of a new crop – whether tree fruit or grapes.
The machine’s weapon is simple – heat, applied in that most secret of places – directly to the flower’s stamen.
“You need to protect the inside of the flower,” says technical director Marc Polleunis of Agrofrost. “Ice crystals on the outside can start damaging the skin. Same with vegetables once the ice crystals are on the outside. What this machine does is bring up the temperature inside the flower – at the stamen – the very centre part.”
Agrofost is a Belgium-based company which manufactures Frostguard, the innovative machine now being made available in Canada through Slimline Manufacturing in Penticton.
The trouble with frost is that in so many cases damage occurs without any visible signs to the flower. Polleunis says that’s because frost compromises the cell structure. It’s only later, once fruit production begins that growers realize their crop is lost or severely reduced.
“Every time you go into negative temperatures you lose something – whether it’s quality or quantity, and that means you’re losing money,” he says.
How it works
Using the Frostguard, an alarm goes off to let the orchardist know temperatures have dipped to a dangerous level. That alarm is linked to a cell phone service that can then send text messages up to four people, who can then head out and start up the machine.
Polleunis first came across the technology in Chile in 1999. At that time, growers typically used wind machines to keep frost at bay. But this particular grower couldn’t afford the equipment, and lost two years of crop in the process. He was desperate.
Soon he was driving his van around the farm, rigged with a fan to blow heat onto the flowers. “If he knew more about frost, he never would have tried this,” says Polleunis, who has worked in the fruit industry for more than 20 years “If you look at the calculations on paper it seems impossible this would work. He knew how to do it, but he couldn’t explain why it was working.”
Polleunis could see the potential, but without research backing it up, distributing a machine like this would be challenging. He had some European professors look into it, and then found growers willing to put the machine to work in Belgium and later in Germany. The results were outstanding.
“This past spring, Germany almost lost its complete production of cherries and apples because three weeks after blooming frost came. The machine can only protect the fruit up to -2C, but even with limited savings, the grower who used this still had about 70-75% of production. Their neighbour lost it all.”
Slimline sales manager Bob McIntyre now has Polleunis in Canada working to develop the North American market. McIntyre sees great potential. Even in cold years, like this season, the Frostguard can help boost pollination simply by adding heat at the right time. “You get a full production, versus a half or a third of what you would get where there isn’t the machine,” he says.
Now two B.C. orchards have installed the machine – one in Summerland and one in Lake Country. The machine operates on environmentally friendly propane gas, and works automatically after start-up.
“Fully 40% of members of the packinghouse weren’t getting up to full quality fruit – and that’s price. That means they’re leaving a lot of money on the table. This machine helps to that end.”
For more information, visit www.agrofrost.be. (that’s “be” as in Belgium)