Tech-Enabled Horti Grabs Investors & Yields More Plants

10-11-2019    17:43   |    Leds Magazine

Maury Wright reports that the technology-enabled horticultural sector is booming, enabled by LED lighting, with evidence ranging from significant venture investments to improved crop yields.

Agriculture was one of the original growth business opportunities dating to the New Stone Age, and the practice of farming commercially has continued to this day. But frankly, it’s rarely been truly exciting — until today. Technology has come to agriculture in a major way, led principally by easily-controllable LED lighting. Tech has arrived on the scene, along with solid-state lighting (SSL), just in time as the world’s food supply will face incredible pressure going forward. And large-scale venture investments provide proof of the broad interest. Moreover, the interest goes beyond food with crops like cannabis and hemp promising rich rewards. Meanwhile, the populace needs more vegetables and leafy greens. Let’s look at some of the latest financial and technology developments heading into our HortiCann Light + Tech Conference.


Horticultural goldrush
Let’s start with the interest from the venture investment community into agricultural or horticultural startups. We first covered vertical farms using LED-based horticultural lighting back in September 2016, not long before our first Horticultural Lighting Conference. The topic of venture investments was on a slow simmer at the time. But we suspected the primary interest would be investment in the companies supplying technology that could be deployed in vertical farms around the globe. Instead, the sector would soon witness huge investment in the farms themselves.

Growing trends
Now let’s turn to trends in growing methodology and start with the cannabis sector. Because it was illegal in most jurisdictions, cannabis has long been grown indoors and growers utilized the lighting tool most readily available to them — namely, high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures. Early attempts to replace HPS fixtures with LED luminaires on a one-for-one basis were not very successful. The HPS fixtures produced more total energy. LED products have continued to improve, however, and spectral science has made SSL products even more effective.

Still, growers are quickly learning that the footprint and topology of indoor cannabis farms had to change to fully leverage the benefits of SSL. We first documented the advantage of a vertical-farm growing operation just over a year ago at Eve Farms in San Francisco. Fluence Bioengineering (now an Osram company) supplied the two-layer operation, which resulted in greater yield per square foot.

Cannabis, or other fruit and vegetable crops like tomatoes or peppers, can never be grown in the tightly-packed layers that are common with leafy greens. But the fact that LEDs don’t generate heat means that the lights can be placed much nearer the plant canopy. Moreover, scientists are learning that the right spectrum can enable flowering without the plants reaching heights that were previously thought necessary.


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Photo Credit: Drew Taylor on Unsplash







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