l-r: Marc, Krista, and Ben Schurman (and Zoey the dog) in front of one of the new boilers Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty


Finding ways to save at Schurman Family Farm

Imagine if you could save 100,000 litres of furnace oil a year? Yes, you read that right. One hundred thousand litres.

That was approximately the number of litres of oil burned to heat the greenhouses at Atlantic Grown Organics in Kensington, PEI last year. The organic farm has over 4 acres of year-round greenhouses and they require a lot of energy to heat. And even though the farm has been using waste biomass to heat them for many years, the old boilers were inefficient, hence the need for a supplemental heating system that burned oil.

Now, thanks to both federal and provincial investments, the old boilers are quiet and two new efficient 1250kW Herz Biofire boilers are heating the greenhouses. The new boilers will burn both wood chips/waste and crop residue (biomass), allowing for flexibility with fuel sources. Unlike oil, those fuel sources are found locally, so in turn $100,000 will be put back into the local economy annually.

Marc Schurman and his wife Krista own and operate the farm, which is the largest organic greenhouse operation in Atlantic Canada. Marc explained about some of the features of the new boilers.

“They’re clean technology boilers from Austria. They would be the first of this kind in North America. And they allow us to not use oil.”

He further elaborated on the efficiency of the boilers.

“They’re much more efficient than our older boilers, they’ll manage the fuel consumption of the boiler with the oxygen content so that it burns everything as efficiently as it can. They’re designed to meet the European emission standards, which are much, much higher than the Canadian standards.”

The efficiency of the new boilers means that up to 2.1 million kgs of CO2 will be offset annually. That’s roughly equivalent to taking 456 cars off the road or 1 million litres of oil use.

Biomass and wood chips (up to 1000 tonnes annually of each) will be burnt in the new boilers Photo credit Cheryl Young/Salty

The Schurmans are already noticing the difference in efficiency as the building that houses the boilers (old and new) is no longer as warm as it once was. “We don’t need this building to be 20 degrees,” Marc said. “As long as it doesn’t freeze, then all the energy is going into the water into the greenhouse.”

The boilers are fed the fuel by a hydraulic auger system, where it is burnt to heat the water which is then pumped through pipes to the greenhouses. The pipes in the greenhouse then radiate the heat to the growing crops of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, greens, eggplants, herbs, and more.

Using biomass as a heat source is not new to the Schurmans, first starting with a straw burner in the 1980s. As the business grew and the greenhouses expanded, they continued to burn biomass, but their reliance on oil for heat increased.

“This first of its kind technology to be installed in North America is a terrific example of how producers from coast-to-coast-to-coast are looking to ‘grow greener’,” Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said in a press release. “Our government is committed to supporting research into sustainable agriculture practices.This project showcases how the ingenuity of our farm families in adopting new technologies can help Canada be a leader on sustainable farming and food.”

The operation will receive a federal investment of $446,642 under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agricultural Clean Technology Program, $271,467 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) Regional Economic Growth through Innovation program, $89,328 from the PEI Department of Agriculture and Land and $85,847 from Atlantic Grown Organics.

Provincial Minister of Agriculture and Land, Bloyce Thompson said in a press release, “Prince Edward Island’s government believes in agriculture that is progressive and dynamic, while being both financially sound and environmentally responsible. Clean, renewable energy projects are part of reducing the ecological footprint of this vital industry.”

The boilers were installed by local company Wood4Heating, which has installed biomass heating systems in seniors’ homes across PEI, as well as systems that heat the Tignish hospital. Having a local connection was important to Marc.

“That was certainly a deciding factor because you know, once you get anything that’s got two moving parts and a lot of technology in it, if you get anything that breaks down and I’m having to call Austria directly, then it gets pretty difficult.”

Part of the appeal to the new boilers is also the ability to monitor them more easily. Krista Schurman joked that she’d be less likely to panic if she needed to deal with an issue with the new system. “It’s a little bit more controlled. The old ones, I’d be dealing with a real fire right in my face, and a lot more unknowns.” Marc injected with some further explanation, “There’s an app, you can log on and look at what it’s doing. And we’ve set ourselves up with a few cameras, so you can know what’s going on.”

The largest portion of non-repayable funding for the new system came from the federal Agricultural Clean Technology Program. A $25-million fund, it supports research, development, and adoption of clean technologies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, generate a wide range of positive impacts on the environment from agricultural production, and promote sustainability and clean growth.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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