LED innovation lights the way for next-generation farming
In the basement of a high-end Manhattan restaurant grow rows of flavorful herbs typically unavailable in fresh form to chefs there.
Across the country in San Francisco, an indoor farm produces 400 times more food per acre with 95% less water than a traditional farming operation.
Both are possible due to a host of a technology that make it easier, faster and more delicious to grow crops indoors.
Innovation in horticulture LED lighting is turning the local farm-to-fork future of agriculture on its head. The “recipe” for delicious food begins well before the kitchen. Farmers now dial up “climate recipes” using innovations in LED lighting to deliver fresher, more nutritious fruits and vegetables to consumers.
I recently gathered several horticultural experts for a series of presentations about LED lighting's role in the future of agriculture. Find recordings of these conversions here.
The United Nations predicts that as the global population grows by 2 billion people – to 9.7 billion people – by 2050, the demand for food could outpace production.
Even now, conventional agriculture faces many challenges that contained environments can solve. Among them are waste reduction, flavor enhancement, land and water conservation, and ecological variables such as climate change, pests and pollution.
To meet the future demand for food, counteract climate change and increase yields, farmers are steadily turning to indoor farming. The movement requires a wide range of lighting and sensor solutions unheard of until recently.
As Infineon lighting expert Matt Reynolds says, increasing populations in urban areas combined with scarce natural resources are just a couple of the megatrends driving growth in indoor farming.
“We need more food, harvested close to urban areas, grown in a more efficient manner, producing healthier and more nutritious crops all year around,” he said.
Ag demand for LED technology
LED lighting for horticulture is a fast-growing market.
The LED compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for cannabis production alone is projected at 35% from 2017-2025. LED CAGR growth for vertical farming – farming indoors in vertical stacks – is projected at 25% from 2017-2025 for crops such as lettuce, basil and other herbs.
As Marc Dyble and Kurt Liepmann of OSRAM Opto Semiconductor explain, lighting for horticulture is most useful at wavelengths considered photo-synthetically active radiation (PAR), which falls within the 400-700nm range. Photosynthetic Photon Flux, or PPF, measures the total amount of PAR photons generated by a luminaire.
LEDs have higher PPF efficiency and better spectral control than older technologies. This allows researchers to establish recipes of light ideal for different plants and stages of growth.
Other considerations for LED lights in horticulture:
- Spectral output control: LEDs offer greater control over the light output across different wavelengths, so growers can more closely match spectra to the needs of their plants.
- More precise targeting: Smaller LED lights improve control over where the light goes. That increases efficiency and reduces energy consumption.
- Less radiated heat: LED lights are cooler than traditional bulbs and can be placed closer to plants, resulting in denser crops and less water consumption.
- Life cycle savings: LEDs typically have a longer lifetime, lower energy consumption and lower maintenance costs.
In short, today’s LED lighting solutions can deliver maximum system-level photon efficacy in horticultural applications and can be customized according to the needs of each crop.
Because LED fixtures can be controlled digitally, a host of cost benefits surround centralized power applications, too, says Chris Jones of Artesyn Advanced Energy.
“A new concept is starting to take hold, that of a centralized approach to powering LED lighting in greenhouses and indoor farms,” Jones says. “This reduces heat in the grow areas and significantly lowers installation costs. It also enables complete monitoring and control in the cloud.”
Luminus Devices lighting experts Yves Bertic and Murali Kumar cite some unexpected applications driving growth in horticultural LED uses.
Appropriately tuned LEDs can boost the THC/CBD content in cannabis operations, can control powdery mildew and even change the color, taste and vitamin content of leavy greens.
After harvest, UVC LEDs can reduce risks of food poisoning by extending produce storability.
Even adjacent industries like poultry farming benefit from LEDs. Research shows that UVA and UVB light benefits chickens by reducing stress, improving feather condition and promoting vitamin D synthesis.
UV LED light is being used more in horticulture today with proven benefits. Additional research is needed to optimize the exact wavelength and fluence needed for each application and crop.
IoT platforms: pulling it all together
With the move to indoor farming, attention now turns to how to automate all those needed systems.
Original equipment manufacturers are coming out with devices that monitor and manage climates, lighting, reservoirs and irrigation schedules, all in one simple controller.
As pointed out by Keith Bennett and demonstrated by Dhiren Raval of Avnet’s Softweb, partnerships are key to building an IoT framework that simplifies how these systems of systems are designed and go to market.
Tomorrow's farmers will need experts knowledgeable in holistic IoT solutions to manage indoor farms. From facility management systems to sensors, lighting controllers and HVAC systems, all will generate data that can be aggregated and analyzed to make indoor farming even more successful
Arv Jarasius has been an Avnet Illumineer supporting LED lighting system design since 2015. With 14 years of solid state lighting experience, he has guided Avnet’s North America LightSpeed group into the solid state horticulture lighting market.