Sundrop Farms has just made history. The Australian company is the first agribusiness to grow tomatoes using solar power and desalinated water. This marks a major turning point in sustainable agriculture. It proves that crops can be harvested on a mass scale with minimal environmental impact.
It’s a story of faith, resilience, and unwavering determination. During the initial startup phase, not everyone was onboard with Sundrop’s mission. The company pitched a revolutionary idea: to produce crops in one of Australia’s most arid regions using solar power and desalinated sea water. Lots of people thought it could never be done.
“We knew that, considering the increase in population…we had to address the food shortage, the water shortage, the energy shortage,” said Reinier Wolterbeek, Chief Technical Officer at Sundrop Farms.
But things started to change in 2014, when multinational private equity firm KKR took an interest in their mission. KKR, founded by Henry Kravis, Jerome Kohlberg, and George Roberts, invested a whopping $100 million into the company. That investment was critical in funding the new 49-acre facility located in Port Augusta.
In total, the facility cost an estimated $175 million to build. Sundrop hired 260 people during the plant’s 18-month construction phase, and, depending on the season, the company will hire up to 200 people as regular employees.
“Because we do everything in a controlled environment, we know what our input costs are, and we’re doing everything on a renewable basis [so] we can provide real consistency of supply and a higher quality product at a better price year-round,” said Philipp Saumweber, Chairman and CEO of Sundrop Farms.
All said and done, the facility houses an astounding 180,000 tomato plants. The tomatoes themselves will be sold exclusively at Coles Supermarkets. If everything goes according to plan, the farm will produce an average of 37,000 pounds of tomatoes every year.