A Kiwi crop company is looking to lead the way in low-carbon produce, so we can eat our salads knowing they haven’t been grown in coal-heated glasshouses. By combining innovative technology and renewable energy, they’re proving that horticulture is an industry ripe for change.

JS Ewers is one of the largest producers of indoor and outdoor produce in New Zealand. They have been growing and selling premium quality produce including tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants, since 1972.

Today they operate one of the most sophisticated growing operations in the world with 13 hectares of glasshouse and 250 hectares of outdoor land in Nelson, producing vegetables 365 days of the year. In 2016, JS Ewers started working with EECA on a sustainable energy strategy.

Pierre Gargiulo, General Manager of JS Ewers, is an enthusiastic host at their Nelson site as he discusses the roadmap they’ve developed with EECA since 2017. Putting a plan in place to reduce emissions is a no-brainer according to Gargiulo.

It's a hard leap to make but you either change at your own pace or you will be forced to change.

Pierre Gargiulo, General Manager, JS Ewers

"If we hadn't done all the work we've done with EECA we'd be in a very different position to where we are now. We could have wasted a lot of time and capital if we hadn't done all the work we've done.”

Several initiatives had already seen energy use, and therefore carbon emissions, fall – including retrofitted thermal screens in a number of greenhouses to heat the large spaces more efficiently in colder months and keep them cooler during summer.

These reduced the need to use fossil fuels to heat greenhouses, saving over 1500 tonnes of carbon from being emitted annually.

EECA CEO Andrew Caseley says more than 200 hectares of commercial glasshouse operations across New Zealand could benefit from retrofitted thermal screens, multiplying those carbon savings across the industry. “JS Ewers has embraced a low-carbon roadmap, and I think the horticulture sector should watch them with interest, if they’re not already on their own path.”

The most significant carbon savings come with the next project: the company will transition from using coal to wood pellets for heat generation at the company's main site. The completion date for the final stage of the project is in quarter two, 2023.

EECA invested just over $4 million through the Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry initiative (GIDI Fund), to co-fund the project at JS Ewers’ operations in Nelson. The total cost of the project is $8.6 million. It was one of 14 successful project applications to the first round of the GIDI Fund in 2020.

While JS Ewers had already identified the need to fuel switch, and were champing at the bit to get going, Gargiulo says “The funding has been critical for us. It was a big part of getting the project over the line.” He notes that “the way coal and energy prices are going it should lead to some significant financial benefits down the track.”

The benefits will be far wider, though, as the coal emissions and pollution are slashed from the site, and consumers can enjoy low-emission veggies. “This is part of a 25-year project,” Gargiulo says, “so we're in it for the long haul.”

About the GIDI Fund

The GIDI Fund was launched in 2020, and the original $69 million investment was allocated across 53 major industrial decarbonisation projects – all contracted for completion by April 2024. Over their lifetime, they are estimated to save 7.46 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to taking 134,800 cars off the road.

In May 2022, New Zealand’s Emissions Reduction Plan set out the pathway for how New Zealand will meet its first emissions budgets (2022-2035) and achieve long-term climate targets.

To help meet this challenge, the Government announced expanded funding of around $650 million for the GIDI, coming from the Climate Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The investment will be across four years, and will cover a broader number and type of projects:

  • A continued focus on process heat (similar to previous GIDI), including high impact decarbonisation projects of national significance.
  • Targeted investment at a regional level for projects that optimise low emission fuel use.
  • Funding for electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure upgrades to support fuel-switching, and the early adoption of high decarbonisation energy technologies.
  • Help for businesses to buy and install low emission, high efficiency electrical equipment used for industrial and commercial processes, including specifically electric motors and electric heat pumps.
  • Help for commercial buildings replacing fossil fuel use for space and water heating, to lower emissions and increase energy efficiency.

Find out more: About the Government Investment Decarbonisation (GIDI) Fund