The best way for lighting systems and components suppliers to understand and adapt to evolving greenhouse production methods is to work directly with their grower customers. With that in mind, we reached out to several leading manufacturers and asked them about the top lighting challenges growers are facing, and how they are responding to these challenges through innovation.
What are the primary concerns you are hearing from growers when it comes to their lighting needs, and how is your company helping them address these concerns?
ActiveGrow: In horticulture environments, there is a balancing act of dialing in the right light, water, nutrients, CO2, and other environmental factors that affect plant production. In regard to lighting, changing from harsh HPS lamps to lower temperature LEDs will have an effect on water usage, as less evaporation will occur. This will also impact nutrient intake as the water that contains those nutrients will feed to the plant slower. As a result, we need to be clear how lighting can impact all aspects of a growing operation so the end user knows what to do and the learning curve is minimized. Once everything is dialed in, LEDs will help make the system more sustainable overall.
Fluence Bioengineering: This may be retreading on something you’ve been hearing for the last year or so, but understanding the transition from legacy lighting technologies to LEDs and how this effects the cultivation environment is still a hot topic in the lighting industry. Growers increasingly are starting to understand the yield, uniformity, and quality benefits of broad-spectrum lighting, so spectrum is not as big an issue as it was previously. However, many growers are still learning that technology transition is not as big a factor as understanding the environmental changes the transition will introduce, i.e. changes in ambient air temperature, leaf surface temperature, vapor pressure deficit, etc.
Heliospectra: Greenhouse growers across North America are recognizing the need for supplemental lighting to maintain consistent year-round yields and highest product quality between October and May. Supplemental lighting is critical even in those regions typically identified as high-light regions, such as Arizona and Texas, as growers can often command higher retail prices for tomatoes, leafy greens, and other specialty crops during the winter months. The industry is also continuing to advance intelligent lighting controls to automate schedules and production as greenhouse technologies and building system integrations become more connected. Growers now recognize adjustable-spectrum LEDs as a viable and proven solution to traditional HPS lighting as a means to accelerate harvest cycles and balance energy efficiency with efficacy and crop performance.
Illumitex: There is still some confusion and concern about lighting options — the pros and cons of HPS vs LED, which is best, and why. Illumitex can help sift through the alternatives so growers can make the best choice for their objectives. We offer a no-risk trial program, which provides fixtures for a given environment/facility/grow so growers can verify performance and discover firsthand the benefits of LED.
LumiGrow: Cost is an ongoing concern for growers evaluating lighting needs. Additionally, there have been misdirected messages in regard to how light spectrum affects crop growth, which LumiGrow is trying to overcome with reliable data backed by scientific evidence. Still, many lighting companies today don’t have a handle on how light affects crop growth and may be scattering uninformed messages, which can confuse growers.
Signify: Our focus is on the value of light as a grow solution and on the importance of measuring light (just as other crop inputs are measured) because what you see is not always what you get. Some ornamental growers still believe their greenhouse crops are receiving enough light through natural sunlight, or they believe their HPS lights are providing the supplemental light they need to grow their crops. In other words, they believe if the lights turn on or if the fixtures are putting out light, then all is good. We want growers to know that LED lighting gives a grower control, and with control comes predictability. With LED toplighting, growers control light intensity, light duration, and light spectrum to maximize crop growth, which they cannot do with natural light. In addition, LED toplighting radiates much less heat than HPS, which is the traditional source of supplemental lighting. That means growers can control light and temperature separately from each other to reach unprecedented lighting levels for plants and gain more control over growing conditions. And unique to Signify, the application of our Philips brand horticulture light solutions comes with the extensive knowledge and support of plant specialist, account manager, and application engineer.
What are some of the newest innovations you’ve developed in this category? What is your company doing in terms of ongoing product development research?
ActiveGrow: We want to make it easy for growers to move in a more sustainable direction, so we developed LED horticultural replacement lamps for end users who don’t necessarily want to purchase an entirely new fixture to start saving energy. In horticultural environments, lighting should be a factor that delivers consistently every time, so the main focus of our product development research is to build on what benefits growers in terms of reliability and functionality. As technology changes, we continue to engineer products that allow for entire grow operations to use less energy, carbon, HVAC, water, and physical space to achieve better plant yields, quality, appearance, and taste.
Fluence: Our team is continuing to hone the energy efficiency of our LED solutions, and looking to educate and work closely with growers to ensure they adjust their environment to account for this benefit. What I mean by this is our lights are focused on efficiently converting each electron into a photon of light instead of releasing that energy as heat. We’re also doing more research into optimal light spectrum for generating more plant biomass, as well as enhancing certain qualities of the plant, i.e. color, anthocyanin, etc.
Heliospectra: Heliospectra’s collaborations with growers include helioCORE LED lighting controls and the introduction of a new light-bar series offering light spectra variants to optimize greenhouse operations and business performance.
Illumitex: Illumitex grow lighting innovation seeks to drive down the initial cost of implementing LEDs, improve efficiency and efficacy, and increase the output of photons to meet or exceed the incumbent light sources. We consistently research, test, and utilize the latest technologies, source the best components, and count on our industry-leading development and engineering teams to verify all designs and final products to deliver the best solutions possible. We have been doing so since 2005.
LumiGrow: LumiGrow recently released its TopLight fixture and smartPAR fixture. We will also soon be releasing our BarLight fixture, which will be geared for multi-tier cultivation. We will also continue to create the industry’s leading strategies and research-driven information to inform growers of the best practices for growing with horticultural LEDs.
Signify: For more than 12 years, we have been testing and researching the effect of LED lighting for the horticulture industry, developing horticulture-specific LED lighting products, and sharing the knowledge with the global horticulture industry. We started with high-wire food crops and then moved into ornamentals, and now LED lighting for bio-cased crops. Delivering up to 800 µmol∙m2∙s1, the high output version of Philips Toplighting was introduced last year at Cultivate’18. This toplighting is beneficial for crops requiring very high light levels, namely roses, gerbera, and bio-based crops. We continue to tap into our research network and partnerships both on the product development and application side to ensure our product development process and pipeline is prepared to address the challenges of growers across a range of food, ornamental, and specialty crops.