179: Farming with Alternative and Renewable Energy
One way that growers can farm sustainably for the future is through vineyard fleet management. Marc Di Pietra, Regional Service Maintenance Manager for Treasury Americas, a subsidiary of global wine company Treasury Wine Estates, is doing just that by exploring alternative fuel sources and automation. Electric and hybrid vehicles reduce carbon emissions and lower the cost of fuel. The use of remote-operated equipment improves safety for operators, upscales the workforce, improves efficiencies, and has the potential to passively gather valuable data. The challenge is the existing infrastructure needed to support these tools. Learn what equipment Marc and his team are trialing as they work towards a goal to use 100% renewable energy.
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Transcript Craig Macmillan 0:00
And our guest today is Marc Di Pietra. He's Regional Service Maintenance Manager for Treasury America's part of Treasury Wine Estates. And thanks for being on the podcast.
Marc Di Pietra 0:09
Thank you, Craig, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today, especially about some of the things we're working on. We're really excited, quick background on me. I joined Treasury wWine Estates in mid 2018, then transitioned into vineyard operations around 2019. And then since then, I've been focused on our equipment, sleep management in the vineyard with an eye on what farming of the future looks like.
Craig Macmillan 0:28
Farming of the future. That's a really interesting topic and a really big question, what that is going to look like, what kinds of things are you doing? What kinds of things do you do as part of this position as part of this project?
Marc Di Pietra 0:40
It's a great question, because every day it changes, right. But two of the biggest areas of opportunities that we see, we see alternative fuel types, fully electric, hybrid hydrogen or alternative fuel sources, and then also automation or remote operated mechanization. And so for alternative fuels, two of the major points here are obviously the rising cost of fuel, and then also how to lower our carbon emissions. So Treasury as a whole and supportive lowering emissions, we've been implemented two key goals in our journey. And that starts with a target of 100% renewable energy by 2024. That's the first step. And then the second step of that is net zero for scopes, one and two by 2030. So pretty big, lofty goals there. But that's why we're starting that path now.
Craig Macmillan 1:24
So Marc, can you kind of explain what scope one and scope two are in the world of carbon accounting?
Marc Di Pietra 1:30
Yeah, sure. So scope. One, emissions are direct greenhouse gas emissions that occur from sources controlled or owned by an organization. So an example like fuel combustion, boiler, furnace vehicles, things like that. Scope, two emissions, or indirect greenhouse gas emissions through the purchase of electricity, Steam, heat, or cooling. And then lastly, scope three, which is much bigger than that as activities from assets not owned or controlled by the organization, but indirectly affected value, like shipping supply chain, gas bottles, things like that.
Craig Macmillan 2:00
Yeah. And there's a lot of folks that are getting interested in that part of my job with Niner Wine Estates is who I work for. We're trying to figure out what's the carbon footprint of the glass we use, and many other people are looking at that same thing. Because when you stop and think about it, you go, Hey, wait a second, this came from France. And it weighs X, huh. You know, and so it's that kind of scope three stuff is really interesting to a lot of people.
Marc Di Pietra 2:23
Treasury on the background has done a lot of work on that to understand that big picture.
Craig Macmillan 2:26
And we have an episode that mentions that.
Marc Di Pietra 2:28
And the second big piece, which I hadn't hinted on was automation, also a key initiative because it allows us to help improve like our operator safety, upscale our existing workforce while improving efficiencies in the field. There's also an added bonus, that with this type of technology, we'll have the ability to gather passive data, which right now, it's still relatively new. But as we continue to grow and develop, we can process that data to make smarter decisions, you would ask some of the things that we're working on. So here in the US, we're working with GUSS remote operated spray systems, we've got Agtonomy, which is electric and remotely operated alternative to the tractor that you're familiar with. We've got two atari and Polaris electric, RTVs, Robotics Plus systems, which is both hybrid and remote operating. And we're also currently waiting for order of Monarch tractors that should be here in the next couple of weeks. Our international teams, they're also using some different equipment as well, such as vide bots or farm, Kelby, the yields and a few others.
Craig Macmillan 3:25
Talk to me about these alternate fuel things. I think this is a really interesting idea. And I haven't really followed it, tell someone who's never heard of this kind of thing, how this works?
Marc Di Pietra 3:35
Well, the easiest way to think about as you're driving up and down the road, and you see a gas station, and you see those three different price points, for 87 89, and 91. And that's all pretty basic, but then you add in the cost of diesel on top of that there are other ways to fuel equipment as well. So we have a fully electric like you're familiar with your Tesla's or your Chevy bolts, but there's also hybrid, which you're familiar with to it has been doing this for a long time. And then there's also other types of fuel, like methane and hydrogen that are out there as well. The real big challenge that we're seeing, at least on our end, is the infrastructure to support all of these different growing ideas. That's why we're currently trying both electric and the hybrid options.
Craig Macmillan 4:14
Do you think that there is a future for things like methane, hydrogen, those ideas have kind of come and gone? And I think a lot of it, like you said, is the infrastructure part?
Marc Di Pietra 4:21
You know, it's a great question, because I don't have all the answers. But I do know that different companies are trying things to capture, especially in farming, so where you have dairy farms that can collect the methane, you've got the fermentation process, which allows you to capture different chemicals across the way. So I think there is a place for it depending on where you're at. And then again, it goes back to how you can capture and store that safely.
Craig Macmillan 4:45
So let's go back to electric and hybrid. You mentioned a whole range of different vehicles that could run on electric and hybrid. Can you tell me a little bit about is it a hybrid tractors or strictly electric tractors? These are the things that need more house horsepower, and they're a little bit big You're What's that landscape looking like right now? That's very exciting for a lot of us.
Marc Di Pietra 5:04
Yeah. And it's a great question because again, that's those are all the things that we're asking ourselves. The reason we're so spread out is because we're in the early adoption phase, and Treasury has allowed us to be that. So we're trying different pieces of the puzzle to see what works best for us. The reason we've tried a fully electric tractor is because there are currently two or three options out there that we feel really comfortable with demoing in our fields, it's not going to take the place of what we're currently doing. But it allows us to step into our farming practices and see if it is truly a viable option. Hybrid is a little bit more of that in between step, it's, you know, it's one step towards that end goal of zero emissions, because it is more efficient. You know, you get the benefits of that. But also, it doesn't completely Have you dependent on the grid, the electric grid or infrastructure of what's happening around you. You talked about going into larger formats, and there is a concern about battery life there. And that we know that that technology is changing rapidly. So we are starting with a couple see how it evolves, and then we can make an informed decision based on that.
Craig Macmillan 6:06
Stay with tractors are these vehicles that are coming to you from manufacturers ready to go? Are you making modifications yourself? Are you taking with a base unit making modifications to something that's already existing? What kind of involvement does it take on your part to work with this technology at this point?
Marc Di Pietra 6:21
Depending on the program that we're using, so let's say on our for example, that comes to us more or less ready to use. So they have tools that will connect to your standard three point. So there's not much modification or or there but another company, Agtonomy that we're working with, we're on the ground level with them while they're still developing. So it gives us an opportunity to give our feedback of what we're looking for. So we're seeing a lot of rapid change quickly that will help support our needs.
Craig Macmillan 6:46
Will that tractor still be based on a three point hitch?
Marc Di Pietra 6:49
It will have a front mounted tool bar on the front? And we're talking to them about getting front and rear mounted tools?
Craig Macmillan 6:56
What kind of horsepower? Are we talking here? Are we are we comparable to a regular track layer? Are we talking to a regular four wheel drive depends on the size, but are we in the same range?
Marc Di Pietra 7:06
That's the goal, you know, obviously Electric is more efficient than your standard diesel motor. So when you get a diesel motor that says they're pushing 100 horsepower, we believe that the electric range tractor that's stating a range between 45 to 85 horsepower is comparable to that 95 to 100 horsepower tractor. Now again, there's still a lot of work going on to validate that, but we have seen improved efficiencies and we think that will be if not, they're close to it.
Craig Macmillan 7:34
And getting really technical. What is the power supply? Like for these? Are you having to bring in extra electrical service above what you already have? Because a lot of shops don't have a 480? For instance, amperage? What kind of amperage do you need? It sounds like a totally new kind of thing.
Marc Di Pietra 7:50
Yeah, so for the two that I've mentioned, for us, we are using both 60 amp circuit with a 48 amp charger capability, as well as some 100 amp circuits that will support an 80 amp charger. So we're not using anything that is above and beyond like we would see with a Tesla quick charger. And in both of those cases, though, with the 40 and 80 amp chargers, we're still looking at a charge time of overnight, four to six hours.
Craig Macmillan 8:15
So that's very practical. Really. That could work.
Marc Di Pietra 8:17
Yeah. And because Treasury has several ranches, we are looking at it holistically, excuse me, we're implementing different charging systems on different sites as well to understand the draw on the need of those to see how efficient they are affected they are on our site.
Craig Macmillan 8:32
Is there any real change for the tractor operators? Are there new things they need to learn how to do or is it kind of based on what they've been doing is,
Marc Di Pietra 8:39
There is a big change for the operator because they need to understand that it's not sit in the seat, turn on the key and hit the gas pedal. It's understanding what the screen is telling you when you turn on the tractor, where you're at power wise. So there's some nuances, but ultimately, it still runs and drives like a tractor that you're familiar with. It's just like learning a new a new cellphone, for example, Android versus iPhone.
Craig Macmillan 9:02
Yeah, I just got a new phone and I'm struggling. I have to admit. You also had mentioned passive data collection, which I'm very interested in. I've been tracking this concept for quite a few years now. What kinds of data are you interested in collecting? And how's it been going so far?
Marc Di Pietra 9:15
We have been talking to several different companies that offer passive data. But our goal is to try to implement it on the platforms we're currently working with. I referenced the Agtonomy a lot, because again, our input is going into their development quite a bit. They're looking to add sensors to their machines to gather that data that we're looking for. I would say we're still in the very, very beginning stages of that. Some of the benefits of using this passive data is the machine will have more than two sets of eyes on like our current tractor and operator with that we can gather information around density, disease cluster counts, as well as monitoring the sensors that are out in the field such as irrigation or moisture. And just about anything else you can think of that a sensor can gather for you.
Craig Macmillan 10:00
And you're in early trials with it sounds like you actually started collecting data. I was a little confused.
Marc Di Pietra 10:07
Oh, excuse me. No, we haven't there are companies out there that we spoken with. But again, we're trying to rely on our partnerships and use their platform. Again, we're trying to do a lot of things on one machine to see what's valuable to us long term. Yeah.
Craig Macmillan 10:21
And you had mentioned remotely operated vehicles. Is that correct? Yes, sir. Tell me about that. I just think that is so cool. Autonomous machines.
Marc Di Pietra 10:29
Thinking about remote operated, there's several factors involved. First and foremost, it's important to me and our team is the safety of our operators. Currently, we've got spray teams that are working, you know, in the middle of the night, they're working back and forth, up and down each row. So what this allows the operator to do is get back outside of the tractor, manage, ideally, multiple machines from one computer. So obviously, efficiency gains, but you're getting that operator out of harm's way out of the way of the equipment as well as out of any chemicals you might be spraying along the way.
Craig Macmillan 10:58
Are there elements of this that are controlled by computer or artificial intelligence, what I'm thinking of is there's been some work by John Deere, in particular, with GPS guided tractors in the Midwest, where you set a path and it will go wherever you tell it to go little trickier when you have a row on either side, especially if it's a seven foot row or something like that. How hard is it for an operator to control this thing?
Marc Di Pietra 11:23
Actually, from my experience, so far, controlling it with through a laptop computer, controlling not one machine, but multiple machines seems to be quite easy, because there are so many sensors on the platform that will allow it to tell you not only where it needs to go to go from, say, your barn or your shed to where it's starting a job for the day. But while it's going through the row, it's looking for any obstructions that might be in the way whether that's a tumbleweed. Coyote, a person, you know, all of those things for safety, but it also gathers all of that data. And it also knows where all the other machines are as well. And the operator is sitting behind a laptop, making sure that each path because they can see multiple machines on one screen, you know, through data points on a map, it can say, hey, that machine is going well. It's has 25% solution left, and it's tank. So we need to stop at at this point. And all the machines are talking to each other. So there's awareness about what's happening around it as well.
Craig Macmillan 12:17
That's amazing. That's amazing. How far down the path are you with this?
Marc Di Pietra 12:20
Well, I mean, there's two commercial products available now that we will have in our vineyards. Currently, we have the GUSS spray system. They've started in nuts in the Central Valley. But now they've they have actively sprayed over 1 million acres. And we have the first two vineyard sprayers in California that we will have started spraying with I guess in the next, like two weeks or so.
Craig Macmillan 12:41
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, here we are. It's time Yeah, exactly.
Marc Di Pietra 12:45
It came fast. Yeah.
Craig Macmillan 12:47
From a cultural standpoint or a management standpoint, I just am curious. What kind of terrain are we talking about? Are we talking about really steep slopes, we talked about flatter ground, we talked about narrow rows. Treasury has properties all over the place, I'm sure there's a variety of topography that you're having to work with.
Marc Di Pietra 13:01
Yeah, out of the gate, we're starting at a ranch that is relatively flat, it's got long half mile rows. So it'll be nice and efficient for the machine to go up and down back and forth all day long. But the goal is ultimately to take it into the foothills where we're talking up to 10 to 15 degrees of incline that we should not see any problems. And that's with, you know, the equipment that we know we have worked Agtonomy for example, I've seen their machine, go up a degree a slope of about 25 to 30 degrees, no problem.
Craig Macmillan 13:25
We're talking about the machinery. Now let's talk about what the machines are doing. So we've talked about spraying, which is absolutely amazing. Are we using this for under vine cultivation? Are we using this for mowing or using this for tilling what kinds of things you're able to do with these machines?
Marc Di Pietra 13:40
One of the biggest benefits is the underlying cultivation piece, which will allow us to reduce the chemicals that we use in spraying specifically around our herbicide use. We've seen the ability with this autonomous equipment or remotely operated equipment to use undermine tillers and we could do multiple passes with that volt we'd knives, sunflower cultivators, things like that. We can also do a mount where we have a mower on the front and cultivator on the back, that's been a huge benefit and time savings for us as well.
Craig Macmillan 14:08
What are you seeing at this point? Or what are you thinking about? And I know that a lot of things you haven't really kind of gotten into yet, but I know you're looking forward in thinking about this, what is this going to look like from a maintenance standpoint, and also from an employee training, regardless of the position because we're going from a period of having a diesel mechanic, someone who understands how hydraulics work basic things around having vendors who can come out and replace a tire and all that kind of stuff. It sounds like there's going to be some very, very different kinds of maintenance and repair issues here. And we already mentioned drivers, it sounds like there's going to be some very different set of skills that folks are going to have to have to make these systems work. What's that wood in your imagination? What that's looking like right now?
Marc Di Pietra 14:44
Yeah, I think one of the greatest things is the opportunity to upskill our existing workforce. I mean, honestly, it's been really great to see the initial hesitation from our guys when they see this stuff rolled out on the ranch, but then ultimately, once they get their hands on it, how quickly they've adapted to it. And that's been the great Interesting to see because you know, it's getting harder and harder to get employees for the vineyard, it's they're just not available to us, which I'm sure everybody's experienced. So this has really been a great opportunity to see these guys get excited about something new, and upskill them. From a maintenance standpoint, believe it or not, it's actually been much easier than we've anticipated. There's much less regular preventative maintenance needed. So we're not doing oil changes every 500 hours, because electric components require less, they're all sealed. So there's no going into there and changing fluids and things like that. Also, the software on these systems are also capable identifying similar like your car with like a check engine light comes on the system identifies those issues and points us to to those repairs much faster. Now that said, as we evolve, I do see the need to have someone on the team who has a solid understanding of the computer systems and how to address these types of issues outside of our current model, but we also know like we've seen with the car manufacturers, they're training folks up for that. And we're, I've already reached out to a couple of the local, I wouldn't say local, but the the training like UTIs and the wild Tech's of the world to see what type of implementation they haven't talked with them about their job boards. So any young folks coming out of those programs might be looking for something interesting.
Craig Macmillan 16:14
You guys are doing so much stuff. This is amazing. You got a lot going on. Marc, is there any one thing though, that you're really excited about that you're really, really optimistic about at this point?
Marc Di Pietra 16:24
I would say from a process standpoint, like I said, it's really about the operator safety, you know, getting these guys out from behind the tractor in the middle of the night, the efficiency that it brings the reduction of chemicals, like that's all the process stuff that I'm excited about. You know, there are several cool companies out there that we're working with, you know, these guys have great ideas and great minds. And we're all thinking forward. I think that's been one thing that I've really enjoyed is seeing people not worrying about just today. But looking forward.
Craig Macmillan 16:52
And when you look into that crystal ball, what kinds of things do you see coming down the line, not things that you're able to trial now, but things that have potential on the future? There's a lot of work being done, like the precision vineyard project with Cornell and Carnegie Mellon and folks like that, what do you see out there on the horizon? It's, you know, a year ago with science fiction, hint now is starting to look like it could actually happen.
Marc Di Pietra 17:10
Yeah, I think as the autonomous piece gets smarter and better, that's going to be a huge game. And again, I go back to one operator being able to control multiple machines. So that creates efficiency. Again, it goes back to operator safety. For me, it reduces those long days, it reduces middle of the night work for those long hours, and the monotony and the safety of that individual operator, I also really liked the idea of passive data stuff that we've not been able to easily get before and then be able to make smart decisions in the field. If you've got a spot that is say disease prone or not producing as strong as other areas in the vineyard, we'll be able to capture that data and make smart decisions go forward to improve that.
Craig Macmillan 17:48
Measure, to manage, right, get to get the data to make good decisions.
Marc Di Pietra 17:52
And I think that's going to be the biggest opportunity is how do we manage all of that data? That's what I'm really curious about. And that's, that's one thing that I would really like to figure out how to unlock in the future, because we can talk about it. But there's nothing there that can manage multiple systems, multiple points of input. And then whether that's a comparison of like for like mechanical versus the, you know, the future, or whatever that might be, there's so much that we just don't know how to do yet.
Craig Macmillan 18:18
This is a huge area. But is there one thing that you would advise growers are one thing that you would say to growers around automation, hybrid electric, passive data collection, the future basically the future of this kind of mechanization in this kind of electronic world that we're moving into? Is there one piece of advice or one thing you'd one message you'd like growers to know?
Marc Di Pietra 18:37
I think everybody needs to be curious. It's all something that we need to be thinking about, talking about and to help ourselves in the industry and our planet. I mean, there's a quote that I always think of when I talk about this stuff as a rising tide lifts all boats, you know, everybody wants to keep their secret to keep their grapes or their strawberries the best, I understand that. But this technology, the way it's going, you know, labor and employee safety, it's a huge concern for everybody. And I think the more we're talking, the more we're asking questions. And you know, you brought up John Deere. I mean, they're looking into it. Now New Holland is looking into it now. And this is all things started by small people having these ideas, and it's all rolled into bigger things. I encourage everybody, just be curious and talk about it.
Craig Macmillan 19:17
This is great advice. And I think that that's important for our industry. And one of the things I've found over time grape growers are curious and grape growers are willing to experiment within limits and try different things. And I hope that no matter who you are out there, that you will heed Marc's advice and be creative and be optimistic and be open minded. Where can people find out more about you and the things that you're doing?
Marc Di Pietra 19:40
I mean, feel free to reach out to me, obviously, through LinkedIn, feel free to, you know, share my email, if that's an option. Again, I'd like to talk to anybody who's doing something or ask questions.
Craig Macmillan 19:49
Absolutely. And we have a page for each podcast where we will post any kind of resources including contact information, links, papers, anything and so Be sure if you find this interesting to check out the venue team podcast website and take advantage of all the information that's there. Well, Marc, that's all the time we've got for today. Our guest today has been Marc Di Pietra. He is regional service maintenance manager for treasuries America of treasury wine estates. I want to thank so much for being here. This has been a really fascinating conversation. For those of you who are new to downloading the podcast please, again, go to the vineyard team podcast website. We've got hundreds of episodes now on all kinds of different topics.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai