High-tech urban farming is growing with SSL designed to increase the yield and quality of produce, improving profitability and availability of crops, says Osram Americas' HOSSEIN AGHAMEHDI.
It's simple: Plants need light. But they don't all need the same amount of light, or even the same type of light to reach their potential. And while growers can't tailor the sunlight to meet the needs of their plants or crops, they can control the amount of light, the color of light, and its duration by employing LED-based solid-state lighting (SSL). LED lighting is one of the fastest-growing technologies in horticulture, an industry currently valued at nearly $300 billion by the US Department of Agriculture, so it's no surprise that growers of all sizes, from personal agronomists to large commercial growers, are turning to LEDs as supplemental or primary sources of light.
The horticulture industry can benefit from the flexibility, longer lifespan, and lower operating costs of SSL, and should be a clear choice for growers over traditional options such as high-pressure sodium (HPS) or high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. If supplemental lighting is required to enhance crop performance and productivity where a higher photosynthetic activity is necessary, or in cases where growers require supplemental light of specific wavelengths (colors) to promote rapid, healthy growth, LED lighting is the best choice.
SSL is ideal for situations when sunlight isn't an option, or when natural sunlight is important but should be supplemented with tunable/dimmable LEDs. In fact, LEDs can be tuned to provide the photon energy at wavelengths optimum for plant photosynthesis and desired growing conditions, resulting in faster growth, and higher yield with the same or better fruit quality as natural sunlight. High-quality LEDs also will have guaranteed performance, giving growers one less variable to worry about.
The ability to change the spectra of light to meet various phases of plant growth also sets LED fixtures apart. With the ability to adjust light formulas for different crops and different phases of each crop's growth requirements, growers can customize and optimize the plant performance and growth patterns, hence leveraging a greater ability to control production and costs on an on-going basis.
There are numerous applications for LED fixtures in the horticulture space. From toplighting, interlighting, and multilayer cultivation, to supplemental lighting and cultivation for growers who cannot depend on natural daylight, the opportunities for growers to apply SSL are endless. These opportunities also reach to urban farming and controlled environment farming as well as algae grow lights and agriculture lighting.
A major application for horticultural lighting is in urban farming, planting, and gardening. Growing vegetables, fruits, and flowers in high-density areas without the use of pesticides is a challenge LEDs help solve. With the use of these fixtures, distribution channels are kept short and the carbon footprint remains low. These initiatives have been introduced in a range of spaces, including individual residences in large cities with roof terraces to much larger projects financed by investment companies - all yielding fresh and healthy produce with the help of LED technology.
Most important, the right LED fixtures determine the growth and health of a crop. Different crops require different light spectra at various phases of the plant growth cycle, and are often referred to as light recipes. Taking a closer look at the lifecycle of a tomato plant is a prime example. SSL can accelerate growth by nearly two to three weeks, taking a 16-week process down to a 12-13-week cycle and ultimately increasing the grower's profitability. While natural environmental conditions such as extended cloudy or rainy/snowy days can disrupt plant growth and crop quality, LED lighting can precisely provide the light wavelength required to maintain high crop performance and crop quality.
As the applications and benefits of LEDs for horticulture lighting continue to expand, companies like Osram are teaming up with key organizations to study the effect of growing floriculture and vegetable crops in controlled environments under different spectra of LED light. These experiments will eventually lead to a greater understanding regarding the effect of the spectral quality of light on plant growth and morphology, further illustrating the importance of LEDs.