Illumitex recently added three new team members to its horticulture science staff, which expands the team to five and gives the company more 50 years of horticultural experience.
Yan Ren-Butcher, Ph.D., joins the Illumitex team as the Director of Horticulture Science. Ren-Butcher earned her Ph.D. Degree in Horticultural Sciences from Texas A&M University in 2011. She has many years of experience, focusing largely on helping to bridge the science of lighting with horticulture to ensure consumers understand the value in lighting technology. Yan will propel Illumitex as the leader in horticulture research and development, drive innovation and insight into the LED technology, and educating growers on the role that LED lighting plays in the success of controlled environment agricultural.
Veronica Hoyos Leonard also joins the team as a Horticulture Sales Scientist supporting the Western North American territories. Veronica comes to Illumitex with a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Engineering, specializing in Horticulture Crops, from Monterrey Tech University. She has experience in assisting growers on best practices highlighting the importance of sustainability and efficiency including several years of managing a 400,000-square foot greenhouse in Ft. Davis, TX. Veronica will work closely with the sales team to develop lighting layouts, consult with growers on their operation, and be the point of contact for post-installation support.
Additionally, Rosalie Kelley, Master Inhouse Grower, joins the team to conduct studies on how to properly care for a plant under LED lighting. Rosalie has an extensive background in growing and maintaining a wide variety of plants. She holds a Master’s Degree in Agriculture from Texas State University. Rosalie will be managing the care of the plants that Illumitex grows in-house as they continue to test and develop new lighting technologies.
Greenhouse Grower recently caught up with Ren-Butcher and Leonard and asked them about their new roles.
Greenhouse Grower (GG): How did your previous experience prepare you for this new role?
Yan Ren-Butcher: I’ve been working for horticulture lighting industry since 2011. I was the Plant Physiologist at Philips, managing horticulture LED lighting research projects collaborated with universities in China, and then became Product Manager/Horticulture Staff Scientist at Hubbell Lighting for its horticulture lighting product development and research collaborations.
Veronica Leonard: Since I graduated from college, I have played different roles within the horticulture industry. Working as an editor/publisher for a Mexican magazine, I learned how to best approach the grower so I could get to the core of the operation challenges associated with growing a crop. I also learned about large suppliers and their impact on the grower’s profitability. Working for a small grower, I learned how the right action could affect the whole operation. Like adding the right lights as soon as the old ones stop working; this small action increased the quality and productivity by 400%. Working as a product manager, for large seed corporations, I learned about plant genetics and how to choose the best variety. I also learned that a plant is going to perform different in different environments. I also realized how interconnected we are with other growing regions in the world, and how important is to compare our experiences and share our knowledge. Working for one of the largest hydroponic greenhouses, I learned how 200 workers can start a new large tomato crop from seedling, harvest that crop, and take it completely out of the greenhouse in less than six months.
GG: What are the some of the biggest issues or concerns you’ve heard from the growers you work with, and how do you plan to help them deal with these issues?
Ren-Butcher: The biggest concerns/issues from the growers I’ve worked with are that plants under LED do not grow as well as ones under traditional light sources such as HPS due to various reasons (lower light intensity, different light spectrum, different temperature, etc.). However, using LEDs as an energy-saving and environmental friendly light source will bring a lot of financial benefits to growers. As a horticulture scientist, I will help them understand the interaction between light and plant growth and together we can develop an optimized growing system with LED light.
Leonard: Growers care about offering the best product in the market. They are concerned about producing the right crop at the right time and getting a fair price for it. They want to be recognized in the marketplace. I am convinced LED lights offer many advantages to the grower. For example, they draw a lot less power while providing a much better quality of light. They are built to last and withstand the greenhouse environment. Most plants seem to like LEDs, producing brighter foliage and blooms. But the best advantage is that growers can get rebates by using high efficiency LED lights. My purpose as a Horticulture Sales Scientist at Illumitex is to find the optimal solution for each growing operation; from British Columbia, Canada to California, from microgreens to ornamentals to tomatoes.
GG: What are the biggest challenges this industry is currently facing? Conversely, what are some of the biggest opportunities on the horizon?
Ren-Butcher: The biggest challenge is knowing what is the best lighting solution for different crops. Science of light’s effect on plant growth and development is still too young to provide enough data to manufacturers and growers. This will become the biggest opportunity to lighting manufacturers if we can develop a total solution for different crops at different growth environments.
Leonard: Every new technology faces the same challenges: offering the best product at the lowest cost. Today Illumitex is dedicating human and monetary resources to continue improving our fixtures to provide the best value for yield/square foot in the industry. Because we have a team of engineers working with a team of horticulturist, the new opportunities are endless. I believe medical cannabis is the largest opportunity in 2018.
GG: If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be doing?
Ren-Butcher: I think most likely I would be a plant biotechnology scientist or molecular breeder working in the seed industry, as my PhD was focused on melon molecular breeding.
Leonard: My father was a lawyer and I had to decide if I wanted to join his law practice. But I am very grateful he encouraged me to choose a different profession. I am passionate about helping the grower find the best solution for his/her unique growing challenges and contribute in a small way to the production of their best crop yet.