We at LEDs Magazine have previously announced that our HortiCann Light + Tech Conference 2021 will again take place virtually and we are now announcing that the Sept. 28–29 event will feature a keynote address by Dr. Ricardo Hernandez from the North Carolina State Horticultural Science research program. In other horticultural news, GE Current has announced a partnership with Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in the Netherlands focused on a study of the value of interlighting in vine-centric crops such as tomatoes. On the business front, vertical farming pioneer Aero Farms will become publicly traded using the relatively new approach of merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).
As is often the case, we deployed our monthly HortiCann newsletter on Monday and then learned of several horticultural news stories as well as getting confirmation on our conference keynote address. Of course, we won’t wait a month to report on such happenings. And we are especially happy to announce Ricardo Hernandez as our featured HortiCann speaker.
Hernandez and his students have a dedicated project focused on testing varying intensities of supplemental LED lighting in a controlled environment agriculture (CEA) setting. As we have written previously, including in our feature coverage of HortiCann 2020, cannabis is one cultivar that can thrive under very high light levels. At HortiCann, Hernandez will present data on growth patterns in the vegetative and flowering stages.
We will also have a Plenary Growers’ Panel to start the second day of the September event. The growers’ panel in 2020 was one of the most popular sessions. Erico Mattos of GLASE will again host the session with experienced CEA growers. We will have more details on the program in the coming days.
Current and WUR
Moving to the Current news, we were happy to see the announcement of interlighting research. Interlighting, where you place cool-running LEDs within the plant canopy — say, between rows of plants — has always seemed like a good idea because the light can reach leaves that toplighting can’t reach. Our article on HortiCann 2020 highlighted questions about the technique and raised the notion that newer leaves near the canopy use energy more effectively than do older leaves lower on the vines. But we recently ran a story about a Canadian cucumber grower that is experiencing success with interlighting.
The WUR will compare high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting to LED lighting and also consider the effect of interlighting with LEDs. “Despite higher energy costs and environmental concerns related to HPS lighting, growers are more likely to consider the move from HPS to low-energy LEDs once they are certain it will be beneficial to crop productivity,” said Dr. Leo Marcelis, head of the Horticulture and Product Physiology group at WUR. “Our work with Current aims to compare the effects of LED and HPS lighting on yield and quality of tomato, as well as comparing different ratios of all-LED toplighting vs intra-canopy lighting, providing more definitive guidance to growers on how best to achieve their production goals.”
The horticultural lighting manufacturers don’t even know how effective interlighting might be despite having it in their portfolios. “Although interlighting is widely used in the industry, very little reliable research is available to help growers harness it for maximum effect,” said Malcolm Yare, horticulture business development manager at Current. “We’re looking to replace the trial-and-error phases with clearer guidance for our customers and partners, giving them confidence that not only do they have the best lighting on the market, but that their installation is optimized to achieve its full potential.”
Aero’s SPAC move
In the finance area, investment in horticultural companies has been an active area in the past year. We have seen traditional venture investments continue. And as in technology and other sectors, horticulturally focused companies are making use of the SPAC route to raise money. Well-known investors or entrepreneurs create publicly traded SPACs and investors that trust the creator invest before even knowing what type of business the SPAC will become. The SPAC can then strike an acquisition deal with a privately held company, essentially taking that company public in the process and raising additional funding.
AeroFarms just announced its merger plan with Spring Valley Acquisition Corp. Spring Valley is trading on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol SV. The merger agreement is valued at $1.2 billion. The deal will yield around $317 million for future farm development.
“Our goal was to partner with an industry-leading, best-in-class, sustainability-focused company and we are ecstatic to combine forces with AeroFarms, the market leader in vertical farming, to accomplish this vision,” said Chris Sorrells, CEO of Spring Valley. “AeroFarms has a technological edge on the industry, developing a world-class innovation team that has fueled a robust and growing intellectual property portfolio of patents and trade secrets. Moreover, their team has been selling commercial product with major retailers, building a trusted brand that is performing well, and developing influential partnerships that will enhance their ability to scale this business quickly. The future is very bright for AeroFarms and we are excited to share this highly compelling ESG investment opportunity by bringing the market leader in the vertical farming industry public.”
AeroFarms isn’t the first horticultural operation to go the SPAC route. We reported earlier on a similar move by AppHarvest. That deal brought a half-billion-dollar investment into AppHarvest.
LEDs Magazine chief editor MAURY WRIGHT is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist, who has focused specifically on the LED & Lighting industry for the past decade.
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