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Agrico UK is a developer and supplier of high-grade seed potatoes for pre-packers, processors, seed merchants and branded operations. They have integrated the ISO 26000 guidance as a framework within which to identify areas of improvement in social responsibility: the environment, the economy, and society. They have installed three wind turbines and are working with Celtic Renewables on a biofuels project using waste from the potato industry.

Tell us a little about yourself!

Hello, my name’s Archie Gibson. I am the executive director of Agrico UK Ltd. Agrico are specialist breeders, maintainers, and multipliers of certified seed potatoes. We are owned by a Dutch farmers’ co-operative and we’ve been trading in Scotland, as a registered limited company, for over 25 years.

Why is sustainability so important to Agrico as a business?

As a company, Agrico has a very keen commitment to corporate social responsibility and as such, some years ago, we signed up to the International Standards Organisation, Twenty Six Thousand (ISO 26000) an international standard covering corporate social responsibility. We are at the heart of farming as potatoes are arguably the fourth most (or possibly even the third) most important food crop in the world.

We take our commitment and our role in that regard very seriously. And as such, we want to maintain a proper, sustainable approach to all our activities in multiplying and maintaining varieties.

What led to the installation of wind turbines on your land?

Some years ago, about 2010, we were reviewing our corporate social responsibility profile and took the view to try and reduce demand for energy as best we could.

At the simplest level, that was changing the fluorescent light bulbs in the office to LEDs. The next level was applying an insulating material to the inside of our gradings store and storage facility, which is where we keep all our potatoes.

Then we considered that all our machinery is power by electricity and asked “What can we do about maybe generating some power for ourselves?”. So in 2011, we installed a single wind turbine. We added two more in 2013 when we had established that this worked as a solution.

After a year, we were neutral in terms of our demand for electricity relative to what we generated ourselves.

However, this wasn’t without challenges. We had to make sure we satisfied low flying aircraft regulations and local authority planning. We had to negotiate with our farmer neighbour to dig cables under his field and replace drainage. And, most importantly to site three turbines in the right place with nice, clean wind and a good ‘fetch’ (to use a nautical term) to deliver a good electricity yield from the turbines.

But without a doubt, it’s been something that’s been very worthwhile.

And it’s not just about believing in corporate social responsibility but in delivering for the next generation.

How affordable was it for your business to make that investment?

We were fortunate at the time within Scotland, insofar as the government were offering very low-interest rate loans. And in fact, at the time it was interest-free. I would say to anyone, if you have a good justification for having your own wind generation, depending on your location and circumstances then it’s well worth doing.

But of course, it’s not just about wind. There are other forms of renewables as well. We’re seeking planning permission for cladding part of the main potato store with just over 200, three hundred volt solar panels, which will add another level of capacity to our generation.

What other benefits you have found in using a sustainable approach? 

With the change in crop protection products, the industry is becoming naturally greener and more sustainable. And within that energy is hugely important. We are seeing growth in technologies like robot tractors and Agrico are using drones to monitor crops, and all that innovation will require electricity.

And if we can generate some of our own power and reduce the dependency on centralised distribution and grids, we can contribute in a small way to a cleaner, greener planet in the future.

We’ve liaised with two local primary schools, who deliver a module that educates them on wind turbines and what we do, growing our potatoes. And that’s proved a hugely popular scheme. We’ve won a number of awards over the years from the Food and Drink Federation and Scottish local authorities.

It has been good fun and pupils visit at primary six and then again in primary seven. And it’s fair to say that these youngsters leave this project knowing where food comes from.

Finally, what advice would you give to another business thinking of doing the same, or who looking at other types of renewable energy?

Choose the right people to work with to deliver the project. Make sure it’s the right technology for your site and circumstances. It might be wind, it might be small hydro in the highlands or an upland area, it could be solar, it could be ground source heat pumps. There are different ways that businesses can flex their own muscles, as it were, to get a suitable balance of renewable technology to work for them.

Understand the true costs and pursue relentlessly any avenues that support the costs associated with putting in place a renewable project.

However, the right thing to do in the first instance may be to take the first steps like LED lighting and make sure your buildings are properly insulated. Those things give you savings, which then allow you to build toward a more ambitious project in the future.

We are an SME and we’ve got three turbines and we’re going to have more solar panels. This happened over 10 to 15 years. So take your time and you’ll get there!

Potato powered biofuels & the circular economy

 Discover more on Agrico’s work with Celtic Renewables to re-establish, at a global scale, the Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) fermentation process, utilising local low-value materials to produce low-carbon, high-value, sustainable products.
Read the blog from Gavin Prentice here.

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