Working with a $40,000 grant from the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Fund, Chris Callahan and Vern Grubinger of UVM Extension, a resource to Vermont farmers/breeders providing relevant and timely resources, have been wiring up monitors for storage vegetable coolers at ten farms across the state. This is part of an effort to better understand and control the storage conditions of locally produced winter storage crops such as potatoes, beets, onions, cabbage, carrots and squash, so they are available during the winter months when local production of fruits and vegetables is limited.
The monitoring has improved storage conditions and the ultimate quality of approximately 423 tons of winter storage crops at 9 farms through-out Vermont, an estimated value of $910,000. The monitoring systems use temperature and humidity sensors in the storage rooms to measure and record conditions every 5 minutes. Each farm might have between four and six different storage rooms where a specific set of temperature and humidity conditions are maintained consistent with the best practice for the crops stored there. The monitoring sends the data to a server in California which allows the farmers and researchers to check in on the rooms remotely, using their desktop computers and smartphones.
Tony Lehouillier of Foote Brook Farm in Johnson, VT, says, “It allows us to monitor the coolers day and night. It saves time when I need to check the cooler. It allows us to manage the humidity and temperature better than we have in the past. With this monitor, we’ve found that we weren’t keeping the humidity high enough, which affected how low we could get the temperature in the cooler without freezing.”
In addition to tracking normal fluctuations in temperature and humidity, the monitoring systems also help with operational challenges.
“The monitoring system enabled us to track and assess our temperature and humidity values remotely. We were able to install alerts which enabled us to respond to a power issue, re-start a condenser, and determine when additional humidity was necessary,” noted Jon Slason of Harlow Farm in Westminster, VT. “Through the remote monitoring and alerts, we were able to maintain adequate temperature and remind employees to shut the door on a warm winter day.”
The project will continue over the next year, developing a more complete set of storage performance data and looking more closely at energy efficiency with help from Efficiency Vermont.