How an LED Vertical Growing System Can Enhance Production

A few years ago, Virginia-based Shenandoah Growers, the largest grower of organic herbs in the U.S., was experiencing a problem with plant quality. According to Shenandoah’s Chief Science Officer Bob Hoffman, the company was seeing inconsistent growth in its young seedlings during certain times of the year, due either to hot weather or low light levels, followed by periods of intense solar radiation.

To solve this problem, the company began incorporating new aspects of controlled environment growing through vertical farming. The process started with a new controlled environment nursery grow room that uses a specialized spectrum of lighting to enhance plant growth year-round. Young transplants are brought into the nursery at a very young stage, and they are wheeled into a light stall equipped with RAZRx light-emitting diode (LED) systems from Fluence Bioengineering. The lighting stays in place, and the irrigation and drainage stays in place, but the plants move in and out of the room for efficient plant process-flow and maximum space utilization.

“By using a controlled environment where we have air conditioning, we control the humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide levels, and light levels,” Hoffman says. “We are able to reduce the use of water by more than 60%. In our new nursery grow room, we recycle all the water. This, in turn, also decreases our use of fertilizer by 60%.”

Shenandoah currently has 377 of these vertical growing stations, and each one has seven levels, producing 735 plants per cart.

“We wanted to use the same amount of energy, but increase our intensity of light and optimize our spectrum of light to enhance our production, so we could gain higher productivity,” Hoffman says.

When the plants are grown, they are taken out of the nursery grow room where they are ready to plant in the greenhouse.

“We’ve tried to build in organic production with food safety and environmental friendliness in mind,” Hoffman says. “We worked closely with Fluence in discussing what would be the ideal light for supplemental greenhouse lighting.”

One of the reasons Shenandoah went to LEDs versus less expensive high pressure sodium, Hoffman says, was because the company was looking toward the future.

“We know there’s less maintenance costs involved in the long term, and we also know that with these particular lights, we can use the same amount of electricity, but we will get a much higher micromole output,” Hoffman says.

The new production facility uses 612 Fluence VYPR lights, and the new propagation area has 120 of them.

“In our microgreen production, we are using 56 of them, and they put out an average of approximately 160 micromoles as compared to our older high pressure sodium lights, which have approximately 75 micromoles,” Hoffman says. “With the light spectrum in the new VYPR lights, the quality is enhanced. It keeps our plants more compact and keeps them from stretching.”

Shenandoah is also using nearly 4,000 Fluence RAZR LED systems. By using this LED technology and patented processes early in the growing stage, Shenandoah Growers standardizes and maintains consistent propagation prior to transplanting in its greenhouse. This approach yields healthy plants, peak-season flexibility, and steady year-round distribution,” Hoffman says.

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