Efficient Refrigeration Makes Farmer 'Berry' Happy

June 28, 2002
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HOMERVILLE, GA — There is more to the blueberry business than pies, cobblers, and sticky fingers. There is berry picking and selection, packing, storing, and shipping.

At Chambers Brothers Farms, a cooling system lends a huge helping hand. The technology is considered so innovative that blueberry farmers from throughout the United States travel to Homerville, GA, to see how it is done.

Jim Chambers’ business has been growing since 1978. His initial three acres have become an expanse of fields yielding more than 500,000 pounds of blueberries each year.

Chambers begins his season in April, exporting high bush blueberries. He then shifts to fresh pint sales at the end of May, when traditional growers begin production and the market supports a premium price. He finishes off in June and July by selling frozen berries when market prices no longer support fresh sales.

The farm attracts other growers from across the United States looking for ideas for their own facilities, according to Adair Chambers, Jim Chambers’ daughter, who has been running the farm’s operations since 1993. “As my dad says, if you can’t afford to do it over, you can afford to do it right.”

That was the principle behind the decision to build a new packing shed a few years ago. In the early days of blueberry production, a simple lean-to shed was used to store and pack the fruit after picking. But more was needed in modern times.

Jim Chambers noted that not only did the new shed need a more sophisticated design, but it would need more than a traditional air conditioning system to keep berries looking their best and tasting their freshest.

“It is important to keep the temperature of the packing area really low and as constant as possible,” said Chambers. “It is also important to be able to control the humidity.

“If a berry is cooled in too much humidity, it sweats. This makes the berry deteriorate. Being able to control the humidity cuts down on ruined berries.”

The first step was to build a larger packing shed with better insulation. To keep the shed properly cooled to the ideal temperature of 65 degrees F, Jim Chambers went to see John Wilkes at Always There Air Refrigeration in Homerville. Always There Air installs refrigeration equipment and has been installing Heatcraft’s Larkin commercial refrigeration products since 1989.

Wilkes consulted with Larry Pittman, a service center manager with Baker Distributing Co. in Brunswick, GA. Pittman recommended the Beacon Refrigeration System.

“What made the system so ideal,” Pittman said, “was its solid-state control board. The room temperature thermostat and defrost controller are both located on the control board, which is mounted on the evaporator. The control board can also be set for operation with simple or multiple evaporators.”

Pittman and Ron Andrews, a sales rep for the Larkin line, decided to use the Beacon technology with Larkin coolers and condensing units. They looked at the basic load of the building and the product load, calculated the refrigeration requirements, and determined that the Chambers Brothers Farms packing shed needed three Beacon systems for the best redundant capacity.

MULTIPLE UNITS

One unit is constantly cooling. The other two cycle on only if the room’s temperature rises. They turn themselves off when the building returns to the necessary temperature. This guarantees that if one unit is lost, the other units can take care of the load.

Having multiple units is also energy efficient, noted Pittman. “All commercial buildings have an energy demand,” he said. “There is more demand on a building when a unit is starting up than while it is actually running, so one large unit cycling on and off causes an increased energy demands.

“With multiple units there are fewer startups, decreased demand, and a less urgent draw on the building for running the units.”

With Chambers’ concern about humidity, coil selection also was critical. Pittman chose medium airflow coils. They are designed to generate less noise than warehouse coils — an important factor in making the building’s environment suitable for workers.

Pittman also chose to maintain a 10 degree difference between the coil temperature and room temperature. Keeping the coil only 10 degrees cooler than the room ensures that the coil does not meet the dewpoint, which would cause condensation to form on the coil and dehumidify the room.

Wilkes installed three 5-horsepower condensing units and three medium-profile unit coolers. “I basically made a huge building into a walk-in cooler,” he said.

Chambers declared he was pleased with what the system was doing for current operations and with its potential should the business expand.

Said Chambers, “The market is always changing, never the same from year to year. We do what we have to do to keep up. The new building has opened up more possibilities for us.”

For more information, contact Heatcraft Refrigeration Products, Stone Mountain, GA. The company can be reached at 770-465-5600 or www.heatcraftrpd.com (website).

Publication date: 07/01/2002

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