2018-03-01

Capturing the sun's energy to benefit produce and trucks

José's job is to transport fresh vegetables and herbs with his forklift truck for Ratto Bros. He is content knowing that his truck is reliable because it is powered by locally generated solar energy.

Linde trucks powered by solar farm energy play a crucial role in the sustainable agricultural business at Ratto Bros. in California.

José has been a forklift truck operator at Ratto Bros. for many years and is a true virtuoso behind the wheel. At a swift pace, he heads for the conveyor belt, which brings box after box of fresh leeks from a refrigeration system. He neatly manoeuvres the fork of his electric Linde truck into the spaces under the pallet and lifts its. And then off he goes in reverse, exiting the hall, to load the leeks onto the truck waiting outside. “I always want to get out quickly,” the native Mexican says with a grin. “It’s too cold for me in here!” And the Linde forklift truck certainly helps to speed things up.

In Modesto, about 90 minutes to the east of San Francisco in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Ratto Bros. grows 40 types of root vegetables and leafy ones. Over 990 acres (400 hectares) of farmland produce a rich and varied harvest of savoy cabbage, kale, leek, celery root, beetroot, kohlrabi and much more. In the area where the herbs are packaged, the air is filled with the fresh aroma of mint, basil and coriander. The company’s customers are major US supermarkets including Safeway and Kroger Foods. Every day, up to 12,000 packages leave the site – an impressive feat of logistics. For highly perishable leafy vegetables, speed is of the essence. “Savoy cabbages that we harvest, chill and package in the morning can be on the supermarket shelves by the evening of the same day,” explains Anthony Ratto (35), the great-grandson of the company’s founder, Antone Ratto. The achievement fills him with pride.

"The Savoy cabbages that we harvest, chill and package in the morning can be on supermarket shelves by the evening of the same day."

Anthony Ratto

From horse-drawn cart to customer service

Greg Radonich is a Linde dealer in Modesto. Ratto Bros. uses a fleet of 15 forklifts and 20 hand pallet trucks manufactured by the German brand, and Radonich is the man who makes sure they are always ready for use and in top technical shape. “Linde trucks are simply premium products and we love to work with them,” says Anthony Ratto. He says that Radonich offers excellent customer service and can always be relied upon if anything is broken. After all, a working fleet of trucks is of vital importance to the company.

The Ratto Bros. family-run business is currently in the hands of its fourth generation of expert vegetable growers. In 1905, the great-grandfather, Antone Ratto, son of Italian immigrants, founded the company on the Bay Farm Island peninsula, opposite San Francisco. In the early days, he took his produce to the market himself, loaded on a horse-drawn cart that now adorns the company logo. Legend has it that Antone sold his vegetables at the market even on the day when nearly all of San Francisco was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906. The continuing expansion of Oakland Airport on the peninsula restricted the land available to the farm and, in the 1960s, the family decided to look for more land, which they eventually found in Modesto.

"Linde’s technology helps us pursue a sustainable farming model."

Anthony Ratto , Owner, Ratto Bros.

Natural and sustainable agriculture

Running the business in an ecologically sustainable way is a core principle at Ratto Bros. and, according to Ratto, selecting the right forklift brand is an important component of their strategy. “Linde’s technology helps us pursue a sustainable farming model,” he notes, adding, “Sustainability involves a range of aspects and that includes using our production resources such as water, soil and energy, in a responsible way.”

The choice has not been a spur-of-the-moment move to tap into a new trend. “Our family has always taken care of the land and environment where we farm. We’ve always taken care of the people who work for us and we have used resources wisely to be productive and control costs,” says Ratto. “These were all concepts that came naturally to the generations before me. Now, there is this term, 'sustainability', which people use to describe the decisions and business practices that we’ve been doing at Ratto Bros. for over 100 years.”

Using electric forklifts is just one of several examples demonstrating the company’s commitment to green practices. To run an eco-friendly business, the family has installed a solar farm. And the energy generated by the photovoltaic panels can power both the fleet of electric Linde trucks as well as the company’s more energy-intensive hydro cooling system. To keep them fresh, the system sprays a mist of cold water on the recently harvested vegetables. It is especially important for leafy vegetables that can spoil quickly, considering that the summer sun burns down from the blue Californian sky and the thermometer can easily climb to 40° C or 104° F.

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