It’s an appropriately chilly morning when I visit Frost Fans, so I assume Andrew will be in a good mood, given that it’s mornings like this the fans earn their keep. And then some.
‘The fans’ that Andrew Priest and the crew make, branded FrostBoss, protect delicate crops on the mornings when the mercury falls to around zero. Everything from grapes to cherries, lavender – even a ready-lawn outfit over in the ‘lucky country’ – all have escaped certain death thanks to what goes on in the shiny new Omahu Rd facility.
There’s close to a couple of thousand FrostBoss fans in the Bay alone, each one protecting up to eight hectares of crop. “Ours are the four or five blade ones,” Andrew is quick to point out. “The difference” he adds helpfully, “means less noise and they’re more fuel efficient.” The sleek blade profile is the work of their designer, who used to help make the boat go faster for Team New Zealand, and who just might know quite a bit about efficiency in relation to aerodynamics.
Design isn’t the only difference though. Sensors trigger the fans the minute they sense imminent danger from Mr Frost, like when a home security system triggers an outdoor light. Andrew’s app offers growers the same peace of mind, although obviously it’s not movement that triggers action, but temperature.
He’s quite serious when he talks about it reducing stress.
Global boiling isn’t just about heat, but climate disruption, with weather events being harder to predict. The alternative for a farmer is waking up at half past silly o’clock, wondering if there’s enough in the kitty to get a helicopter to move the still, cold dawn air around. Or risk losing everything. Such is the price of going into business with God.
Equally tricky and inefficient is spraying the young crops with water. “It sounds counter-intuitive,” says Andrew, “but the water freezes around the fruit, protecting it.” The downside of course, is the need for a plentiful water supply.
Rather ironically, it’s climate uncertainty that means a more assured future for Frost Fans. They’re already selling fans in every hemisphere. There’s an electric version in the works. For growers in France’s famed Loire Valley, a UNESCO heritage site, they have designed hydraulic FrostBoss units that lie down and hide from view when not in use. Still recognisable though. They’re the ones with four blades. Or five.