Solar power fuels Procacci’s New Jersey tomato packing operation

10/08/2010 01:08:29 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Making its operations more environmentally friendly, Santa Sweets Inc. is powering one of its packing operations with solar panels.

Courtesy Santa Sweets

Santa Sweets has started powering one of its packing operations with solar panels.

The Plant City, Fla.-based grower-shipper recently turned on the solar power switch for its Cedarville, N.J., tomato packinghouse.

The 2-megawatt solar panel farm stretches across 10 acres of the operation owned by Joseph Procacci, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. The project is considered one of the largest solar energy systems in New Jersey.

More than 11,000 solar photovoltaic panels should produce enough energy to support all of the operation’s 200,000 square feet of refrigerated production space.

It is designed to power the plant’s five grape tomato packing lines, two Ugly Ripe packing lines and four repacking lines, said J.M. Procacci, Ag-Mart and Santa Sweets’ chief operating officer and COO Procacci Bros. Sales.

“We have a lot going for us in machinery and refrigeration there,” he said. “Now, we produce our own power for it.”

Courtesy Santa Sweets

The 2-megawatt solar panel farm stretches across 10 acres of the operation

Procacci family members invested $10 million into the project.

J.M. Procacci said Santa Sweets has started engineering design work for similar projects at its Plant City, Fla., and Pennsylvania operations and is considering Nogales, Ariz., which he said doesn’t have as large power needs because of the region’s seasonality.

As one of the largest U.S. organic tomato growers, Procacci said the concern about sustainability fits into its longtime philosophy of controlling costs and protecting the environment.

Procacci said the company intends to invest in other green projects for its own operations and help others in the industry convert to solar power.

“Santa Sweets is very proud to be the first large tomato grower in the U.S. to use such a solar system,” he said. “We are producing things that are healthy not only for our diets but for also for our environment. The most important thing is we hope other producers of produce follow our lead.”

In recent years, more grower-shippers have undertaken solar power projects, including Los Angeles-based Paramount Farms Inc., CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.; Castle Rock Vineyards, Delano, Calif.; Primex Farms, Wasco, Calif.; and Giumarra Vineyards Corp., Bakersfield, Calif.

Part of the project’s financing came from incentives including federal stimulus funds, Procacci said.

Likening it to buying local produce, Procacci said company officials specified purchasing American-made panels to help keep U.S. jobs.

Santa Sweets scheduled an Oct. 12 grand opening celebration, inviting state and local officials.

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