The use of LED lighting in horticulture has increased dramatically in the recent years. Not only do growers benefit from lower energy use but the crop yield is increased, and through the change of the light spectrum, which is easily accomplished with LED light sources, many different changes in how the plant develops are possible.
LED light of differing color can be used to assist the plant’s growth and be used to improve the taste on a year-round basis, as well as bettering the overall quality and the potential that nutritional value can be increased. The growing of fruits and vegetables in an LED environment can not only provide better end products but also better protect the plant development from weather and pest infestations. Of course, previous indoor operations using older lighting technology also provided protection from weather and pests but the ability to manipulate the plant growth and final product with the use of LED lighting can also be used in development of plants that may be manipulated to grow in differing conditions. Light regulates about 90% of the genes in plants and the ability to change the color of the light spectrum in LEDs allows for the possibility of changing the growth rate and the plant’s morphology. Not only can the lighting change the flavor but also the aroma, the content of antioxidants, as well as the promise of increasing the amount of vitamins in the final product. The lighting environment also plays a large part in the rooting of plant cuttings. When the lighting is correct the number of cuttings taking root increases from about 20% to nearly 100%. The results of this amazing increase means great savings on labor and materials can be realized.
The Stockbridge Technology Centre in Yorkshire was originally set up after WWII as a UK Government research center with the goal of improving methods of food production. The place has undergone many changes over the years but is currently an independent industry-owned site. It is also a registered charity, bringing pioneering R&D services to all segments of the horticulture and agri-food industry. The Centre’s mission in the twenty-first century is to tackle today’s world food challenges by advancing technology that improves food production. The use of the plant’s natural biology to accomplish the desired end quality of the fruits and vegetables through the manipulation of growth with LED lighting does not alter or interfere with the plant’s original genetic makeup in any fashion. The taste and aroma of fruits and vegetables can, with the correct LED lighting, ensure that those properties remain consistent throughout the year, not dependent on any particular season. Besides the overall benefits for the general public, a further benefit of this can be seen in the restaurant business as recipes will be more consistent over the seasons because of the steadfast quality of the products. Over 1000 commercial growers have traveled to observe the setups and results at Stockbridge. However, even with the amazing results that have been documented in regard to the LED technology, the number of LED farm conversions is not as widespread as it could or, maybe should be. The initial investment has held many growers back but the change to LEDs throughout the agri-business is making steady strides because the end results are hard to argue with. As the price of LED lighting continues to drop, the number of converts will certainly increase.
Outside of being able to properly regulate the light spectrum of the LED lighting, there are other advantages of the use of LED lighting in the industry. The low operating temperatures allow for closer placement to the plants without fear of damaging them, as would be of concern with older technology lighting such as the most often used sodium lighting arrangements. The heavy metals used in sodium lights can easily contaminate plants if the lamp is broken. On the other hand, there are no heavy metals or any other hazardous materials in LED lights which might affect plants if a light were to break. The breakage of LEDs is also a less likely occurrence as most are constructed of plastic instead of glass, and the major reason this is possible is that the LEDs do not generate the great amounts of heat that former lighting technologies exhibit.
The use of greenhouses and the new LED technology abilities is certainly not intended to replace conventional field crops. The idea here is to increase the overall crop production by adding this extra layer of production into the current farming structure. The LED indoor systems will consistently produce the same quality and quantity of crops and the addition of these harvests will be able to add security to the food chain without being dependent on weather, as field crops are. In the realm of crops being raised under LED lighting, the area of greatest impact is in the production of herbs and leafy greens that grow to only inches in height. These plants can be economically arranged in layers of racks with each layer having LED lighting which is dedicated to that particular area and, most importantly, is able to be placed very close to the plant without harm. This sort of arrangement allows a great number of crops to be grown in a small space. The optimal use of the LED lighting in all crop growing instances, including hydroponics, enables faster and more economical growth and harvest cycles than can be achieved in outdoor arrangements. Another advantage of the LED horticulture would be the ability of growers to produce crops from urban farms which would facilitate the lowering of transportation costs that are associated with more remote field grown crops. In many cases, consumers would have access to produce the same day it was harvested and the added advantage of a longer shelf life. The further benefits of the LED farms extend to helping reduce the carbon footprint of traditional farming, which is a result of the transportation of the product and the use of the necessary farming equipment.
Although there are many challenges within the further development of the LED horticulture field, and much work to do to convince more growers that the LED technology is the way of the future, there is no doubt about the advantages to the technology. The future will certainly see more development within the industry and the LED lighting that will make that happen will continue to evolve and increase the output and quality of plants produced.
As always, if you have questions in regard to any of your lighting projects, please feel free to call Polar-Ray at 303-494-5773 to speak with a lighting consultant. Thank you for perusing our web site.