Solar energy for vegetables and trucks

2018-03-01 – José transports fresh vegetables and herbs with his forklift truck for Ratto Bros. He can rely on his truck as it is powered by locally generated solar energy.

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Linde trucks – powered by electricity from a solar farm – play an important role in the sustainable farming business of Ratto Bros. in California.

José has been a forklift truck driver 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 is bringing in box after box of fresh leeks from the cooling system. He neatly manoeuvres the fork of his electric Linde truck into the spaces under the pallet and lifts its up. And then off he goes in reverse, out of the hall, to load the leeks onto the lorry 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 an hour and a half to the east of San Francisco in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Ratto Bros. grows 40 different types of leafy and root vegetables. Over 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 such as Safeway and Kroger. 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,” says Anthony Ratto (35), great-grandson of the company’s founder Antone Ratto. This achievement fills him with pride.

Anthony Ratto
Owner Ratto Bros.

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

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 optimum technical condition. “Linde trucks are simply high-quality products and we love to work with them,” says Anthony Ratto. He confirms that Greg 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 for the firm.

The family business Ratto Bros. is currently in the hands of its fourth generation of expert vegetable farmers. Great-grandfather Antone Ratto, the son of Italian immigrants, founded the company on the Bay Farm Island peninsula, opposite San Francisco, in 1905. 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.

Anthony Ratto
Owner Ratto Bros.

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

Natural and sustainable agriculture

Running the business in an ecologically sustainable way is a core principle of Ratto Bros. and, according to Anthony Ratto, the choice of forklift brand is an important element of this strategy. “Linde’s technology helps us pursue a sustainable farming model,” he says. “To me, sustainability involves a range of things, and one of them is using our production resources, such as water, soil and energy, in a responsible way.”

This is not a spur-of-the-moment move to tap into a new trend. “Our family has always taken care of the land and environment in which we farm. We’ve always taken care of the people who work for us and we’ve used resources wisely to be productive and control costs,” says Anthony Ratto. “These were all things 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.”

The use of electric forklifts is only one of many examples of the company’s commitment to green practices. In order to run an eco-friendly business, it has installed a solar farm. And the energy generated by the photovoltaic panels can power not only the fleet of electric Linde trucks but also the company’s more energy-intensive hydro cooling system. This system sprays a mist of cold water onto recently harvested vegetables in order to keep them fresh. This is particularly important for leafy vegetables that can spoil quickly, especially when the summer sun burns down from the blue Californian sky and the thermometer can easily climb to 40 degrees.