No veg wasted after firm spends £2.5m
Rising energy costs have driven a major Armagh vegetable supplier to invest £2.5m in a green energy plant. Loughgall vegetable processor Gilfresh Produce has spent more than £2.5m on a new system which will convert waste vegetables into electricity through fermentation. The investment has been supported by Danske Bank.
The anaerobic digester will ferment up to 120 tonnes of organic waste a week and will generate enough energy to power the firm's packaging factory with any excess energy to be sold back to the grid.
The business was founded by the Gilpin family 50 years ago, and started out growing cabbages and scallions for Belfast markets.
Now handed down to the third generation of the family, Gilfresh Produce employs 130 staff, manages around 2,500 acres of field vegetables and salad crops, and supplies all major UK supermarket chains.
The anaerobic digester will allow the business to be self-sufficient energy producers. Rising energy costs have been putting pressure on companies. William Gilpin, director at Gilfresh Produce, said: "Four years ago we realised that we could utilise our waste products in a more efficient way.
"At that point we were selling waste vegetables to farmers for feed at a very low margin.
"The business was facing several pressures including increasing energy costs, poor weather and challenging trading conditions. We travelled to a few sites in Europe to see how anaerobic digesters could work for us and we saw that it would complement and enhance our business operations.
"It has taken a lot of planning but we are finally at the stage where the system is up and running and producing electricity. We have one full-time employee who is in charge of the digester, which sits in a three acre field beside our factory."
Mr Gilpin was named Marks & Spencer Young Producer of the Year at Balmoral Show in May. The company also picked up the Tomorrow Matters Award at the Henderson Wholesale Local Supplier of the Year awards.
Mr Gilpin added: "Our core business banking is with Danske Bank and when we approached them about our idea for this system, they were very keen to help. We were concerned that we would need to look at an external investor with higher interest rates."
Northern Ireland has 25 anaerobic digesters The first was built in 2008 for research by the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute in Hillsborough.