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Horticultural LED advances offer unprecedented power to growers

30 Jun 2019

Research on indoor LED lighting of leafy greens performed in the Controlled-Environment Lighting Laboratory at Michigan State University. Credit Erik Runkle.

Above: Research on indoor LED lighting of leafy greens performed in the Controlled-Environment Lighting Laboratory at Michigan State University. Credit Erik Runkle.

 

As opportunities mount and the economic potential begins to sink in, there is little doubt that horticultural lighting has got the lighting industry in a quiver. The vision: a future where year-round sustainable fruit, vegetable and flower cultivation flourishes indoors under the tailored gleam of LEDs.

Horticulture is a type of agriculture that focuses on specialty (high value) crops in which production is quite intensive. The aim of horticulture is to improve plant qualities such as growth, production cycle, yield, quality and nutritional value.

Indoor horticulture started with the construction of the first modern greenhouse in the late 1800s, and it wasn't long before electric ‘grow lights', designed to stimulate plant growth and photosynthesis, were trialled and adopted as common practice. This tootled along quite happily, with gradual technological advances, until about five years ago, when, like so many other industries, LEDs came along to detonate the traditional ways of doing things.

In terms of the scale of the opportunity, market research, published by MarketsandMarkets in 2018, reported that the horticulture lighting market is expected to grow from USD 2.43 billion in 2018 to USD 6.21 billion in 2023. Furthermore, a 2018 report by OpenPR expects the Asia Pacific region to be the fastest-growing market due to rapid population growth, urbanisation and the limited availability of agricultural land.

Horticultural lighting can give unprecedented power to growers by allowing them to control the length of exposure (i.e. the length of time light is sent to the plant), and the light intensity (i.e. how much light is sent to the plant). Unique to LEDs, however, is a new power: the ability to tailor the quality of the light, or in other words regulate the light spectrum in order to elicit the specific/desired attributes you want from the individual plant.

By working with these three light parameters, you can create a ‘light recipe' for optimal growing and environments where certain plants can be cultivated in indoor farms or greenhouses, year-round, with reduced energy and water requirements, faster growth, increased yield, and potentially better taste, colour and nutritional content.  

There is also strong evidence that pesticide use can be greatly reduced, or even no longer required, and, because you are tailoring the environment to the plant, as opposed to the other way around, there will be less need to genetically modify seeds, and more opportunities to return to rare and heirloom seed varieties.


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