Times are slow in horticultural lighting, as growers balk at buying systems that will cost a bundle to run, given high global energy prices. Their hesitance applies even to LED products which, while energy efficient, still add considerable electricity costs compared to no artificial light.
But LED vendors are taking the long view, steadfastly believing that the planet needs spectrally optimized illumination in order to grow crops and medicinal plants that help nourish populations and support environmental sustainability.
With that in mind, it’s fair to say that the industry is taking the opportunity to shift into educational gear — otherwise known as marketing mode — to remind growers that, in the long run, horticultural LED lighting will indeed make a big difference.
Their guidance applies to indoor growing that is completely removed from sunlight in settings such as vertical farms, as well as to greenhouses where supplemental tunable lighting can help extend growing seasons into the winter.
Case in point on the indoor farming front: In a recent blog, Signify’s Austin, Texas–based Fluence drove home the point that lighting is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each crop optimally benefits from a unique recipe of spectra, intensity, and duration that is distinctly different from another crop.
Fluence serves a variety of crops but is most associated with cannabis. No surprise, then, that the blog singled out cannabis as an example, making the point that growers who want to expand into cannabis from other crops will have to relearn the lighting proclivities.
Some growers have learned that lesson the hard way, noted Jörg Meyer-Brenken, Fluence EMEA’s lead account manager for cannabis.
“Many operators thought they could copy-paste growing experience from mastering cucumbers, peppers, herbs, and tomatoes, but cannabis is another plant, so that’s a mistake,” Meyer-Brenken said.
Even within cannabis itself, the lighting arrangements can vary considerably.
The blog is essentially a sales pitch imploring growers not only to buy LED lights, but to do so from a group such as Fluence that knows and shares the science behind the lighting, and that understands the business nuances and how to use light recipes to maximize real estate.
“So if you’re in Switzerland, where property is crazy expensive, you just grow more per cubic meter instead of having to add another square meter,” Meyer-Brenken noted.
He was also candid about the general state of the industry at the moment, noting that “everything is moving much slower than we expected when we started.”
The horticultural slowdown became apparent in quarterly reports last fall from Fluence parent Signify (which also runs a separate, Signify-branded horticultural lighting business) and from ams Osram. Earlier this year Fluence CEO David Cohen reported “monumental” negative changes in the cannabis business. Both ams Osram and Signify reaffirmed the ongoing slowdown earlier this month, although Signify CEO Eric Rondolat expressed confidence that, “In the medium term to long term, that business will go back up,” because, he noted, the planet needs to establish food security.
In the meantime, expect the industry to continue to use the slowdown as an opportunity to crank up its educational push.
MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).