Growing red berries under solar panels: the first to do this is Rini Kusters of Kusters Zachtfruit. The trial solar panel setup that he installed together with GroenLeven last year above the crops will be extended to a full solar source from today. "Someone has to take the first step," Rini says.
20 years ago, Rini inherited his father's soft fruit company. "My father passed away at a relatively young age. I was faced with a decision: Am I taking over the company or am I going to sell it? I chose to take over the company. I went for it, what did I have to lose? I wanted to grow and innovate with Kusters Zachtfruit. The decision to install solar panels over my red berries after 20 years was, therefore, a fitting choice.”
The setup will generate green energy, but will also provide protection against extreme weather conditions. "We're seeing more extreme weather in the Netherlands. I notice that our summers are getting too hot and our winters too wet. If anything is harmful to the plants, it's these weather conditions. Take, for example, the formation of fungus on fruit because the climate is too wet, an annoying problem that is becoming more common."
By replacing the traditional plastic coverage with solar panels, Rini gives his crops a more favorable climate and better protection. "On last year's hottest day, it was ten degrees cooler under the solar panels. On last year's wettest day, the plants remained as good as dry. It really is much better for the fruit, so I am also convinced that extending the trial setup is a good step.”
Rini indicates that the quality of the fruit has improved because of the solar panels. "However, I can harvest 5-7 days later than usual. But it can be very beneficial to have my product available later when others are already sold out. I look forward to seeing how this works in practice.” Sustainability is becoming an important issue for both growers and consumers in fruit cultivation. "I notice that the role of sustainability has become increasingly important in the last three years. It has almost become a prerequisite for sales, my clients find this more and more important.
However, Rini is surprised that there is a conflict around sustainability and being greener in the Netherlands. He sees that most of the Netherlands want to be sustainable, but he is surprised by the fact that people are critical when we start to develop wind and solar parks. "I think that's a little selfish. If we want to go green, we all must do so, all take a first step and start doing so, otherwise, we will never get ahead. We believe it is necessary, so we must also accept the consequences. And they're even limited with double functions like the solar panels above my red berries.”
In Wadenoijen, where the soft fruit company is located, Rini's solar source was fortunately very well received. “I have been for coffee with the neighboring residents in advance to present the plans. They were enthusiastic and found the plans interesting. To obtain the permit, I invited them and the municipality to an information session. The evening was even concluded with applause, that's how enthusiastic they were! It's nice that people in the community believe in it as much as I do.”
What does the future look like according to Rini? "I expect the weather to become even more extreme in the near future. It's good to be prepared for this as a grower. I certainly have found that the solar panels are very helpful with this, while also helping to limit the extremes. After all, sustainable solutions such as solar energy are needed to stop climate change and combined with fruit cultivation, you get everything out of it. It's a solution I truly believe in.”
Innovating together for a cleaner world
More fruit growers show interest in an agri-PV solution as implemented for Rini. Willem de Vries, Project Manager agri-PV, explains: "A double function like this is a good example for the energy transition. It provides not only green energy but also several advantages for the grower, as Rini told us. Are you joining forces with GroenLeven? Then GroenLeven guides the process from A to Z, for example with applying for the SDE grant. This is how we take innovative steps for a better world.”
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