Sunday, July 14, 2024

NC trend: A Boone produce trucker adjusts to clients’ demands for a greener Earth

The greening of America extends to the daily transport of cabbage, up and down the East Coast, by Boone-based Hollar & Green Produce. Keeping that produce cold for Walmart and other customers is a challenge that has traditionally involved burning diesel fuel to run refrigeration units on tractor-trailers.

Now, Hollar & Greene has figured out how to reduce its reliance on diesel and related carbon footprint, aided by the Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corp. In a pilot project, trailers filled with cabbage are cooled by equipment powered by electricity, not diesel. The electric transport refrigeration unit, or eTRU, is loaded behind the driver’s cab and plugs into equipment at company warehouses.

The shift has cut costs for Hollar & Greene and made it more energy efficient, says Tony Greene, the vice president of transportation. His father, Dale Greene, co-founded the company with his father-in-law, Lige Hollar, in 1963. Tony’s two brothers, Jeff and Tim, are sales executives.

As a leading cabbage shipper, Hollar & Greene works with farmers from Florida to Canada. It has two main processing and warehouse hubs, in Mount Airy and near St. Augustine, Florida.

“We start in Florida,” says Tony Greene. “That’s January to May. Then Georgia. Then Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, western New York state, which is a great producing area, then, if needed, Canada. By the end of the year, we’re back to Florida.”

Trucks get loaded with pallets of cabbage in the morning when crews are available. The trailer can sit up to 12 hours waiting on a driver. The company owns 50 trucks and 75 trailers.

Walmart wants “the pulp temperature of the cabbage to be 36 degrees, so that’s why we have to have that unit running continuously, to reach and maintain that pulp temp,” says Greene. Someone checks the temperature with a probe. If the cabbage isn’t the right temperature, the load will be rejected.

The shift to electricity reflects a changing ethos. “Our customers are almost requesting that we reduce our carbon footprint, but they’re rewarding us for that,” says Greene. Becoming a favored vendor because of such efforts provides lots of incentive to act.

Looming regulatory changes are a factor. Using technology such as eTRU is common in California, the largest fruit and vegetable producing state. “There are limitations about burning diesel because of all the air regs,” says Jim Musilek, vice president of innovation and business development for the N.C. Electric Cooperatives. 

“If those regulations kind of migrate east, we want to make sure our folks are in a position for success,” he says. “So that’s why we wanted to test the technology, so we could understand it and see what benefits there are, because, frankly, we want to take this pilot and leverage it for all of our other cooperatives.”

The Hollar & Greene case highlights the importance of North Carolina’s electric co-ops to the state’s economy. The agribusiness sector is North Carolina’s largest industry, with a $103 billion annual contribution to the state’s economy. It is largely based in North Carolina’s rural counties. Electric cooperatives, such as Surry-Yadkin, serve 45% of the state’s land area. 

Earlier this year, Hollar & Greene bought a trailer with an eTRU unit from Thermo King. Surry-Yadkin managed the installation of the transformer and charging infrastructure at the Mount Airy site.

The unit saves $100 a day by running off electricity at the warehouse, instead of diesel. Savings of $15,000 to $20,000 a year help pay off a new $100,000 trailer in about five years. Five more e-TRU-equipped trailers are on order. 

“We have a way to get a big return on investment with this new option,” says Greene.  

“It’s low-hanging fruit,” says Musilek. “Or maybe, in this case, low-hanging cabbage.”  

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