Five things indoor farmers should know when choosing their grow lights
The content of this article was created by Agritecture
Fundamental to the creation of any indoor farming environment is its horticultural lighting.
According to plant scientist Phoebe Sutton, “LED lighting is what enables the concept of vertical farming. You can mount lights in layers practically anywhere to support a plant throughout its lifecycle.”
However, caught up in the excitement around this emerging sector, many entrepreneurs fail to do the planning and research necessary to select the right equipment – particularly lighting – for their crops, budget, and farm’s needs. Committing to one solution too quickly, or going too big too fast, without performing proper due diligence or testing the market, has been the downfall of several failed vertical farms. Agritecture’s 2020 Global CEA Census found that 73% of CEA operators would choose their equipment, technology, or crops differently if they could go back in time.
“Vertical farming is key for the next generation of growers. But, you have to start with quality components to get quality products.” - Andrew Littler, CEO at Vertically Urban
While professional grow lights cost more, the rewards are well worth it to ensure a vertical farm has the ability to grow the exact crop their customers want to buy.
As a leading researcher in LED lighting applications for vertical farms, Sutton adds that LED lights “offer a unique ability to choose a spectral composition, which can significantly increase crop growth and enhance targeted characteristics when using plant biology.” This includes the ability to “change the structure of a plant, and also secondary metabolites like taste, aroma, and the nutritional content.”
Vertically Urban is the NASA-inspired turnkey lighting solutions provider with full-spectrum LED grow lights and more…
“We see ourselves playing a role of supplying technology beyond just low-profile LED lights,” shares CEO Andrew Littler. “With our test lab, in-house vertical farm, and R&D team, we offer plant science support and use data to improve efficiencies and spectra constantly.”
Sutton adds that the state-of-the-art facility’s vertical lab farm is both built and operated by Vertically Urban, “acting as a testing site for new spectra,” and a playground for plant science. “The nine climate-controlled growing zones with our lighting installed can be controlled independently so that we can swap in and out of spectrum quite easily.”
“We have fixed sensors in place that can sense the environmental parameters in each bed, tracking factors like CO2 concentration, temperature, and humidity, to make sure that the environments are always optimized.”
According to Sutton, “one recipe won't maximize growth for all plants, so it's imperative to gather data from different crops and create several optimized recipes for individual crops. This requires a large amount of data for each crop.”
“Creating predictive and prescriptive technology is crucial to providing the intelligent farms of the future.” - Andrew Littler, CEO at Vertically Urban
The market as we see it today has “become heavily concentrated with data and plant science.” Data is valuable – but only when you properly collect and consistently make use of it. “Running data analytics and doing data capturing is key to seeing improvements and optimizations.”
Looking to the future, intelligent farms will need to include a level of artificial intelligence, whereby the data collected from the farm - via cameras, sensors, and other IoT devices - will keep operating costs low.
He further compares this future with vehicle automation. “Just like a Tesla car checks everything from speed to driving conditions, we see a vertical farm headed the same way, whereby the farm is monitored by artificial intelligence and is continually giving feedback to the systems and sensors.” This will help maintain a perfect growing environment and keep levels optimized for quality and yield.
A “truly controlled environment for agriculture” is the future Vertically Urban is designing.
In working towards this grander vision, the Vertically Urban team will soon be launching “a new set of low packet radio-wave controls for wireless dimming, and a low-power wireless long-life sensor hub with a 10-year battery life.”
With these solutions integrating seamlessly with software and AI solutions, “Vertically Urban will no longer be just a lighting company, we’ll be more of an Agritech company.”
The team has been working toward this future of agriculture by collaborating with Microsoft. On their partnership, Jason Price, Director and AI Leader - Microsoft Azure EMEA, shares that: “Vertically Urban are innovatively using the power of the Microsoft Azure Cloud and machine learning products. They have a unique approach and a genuine chance to seize an advantage as a first-mover advantage in their use of AI controlled horticulture. We firmly support their initiative to help create a more sustainable future.”
Having worked with a range of clients, the Vertically Urban team has a clear idea of the critical factors to consider when choosing the best horticultural lighting for a farm’s needs. Here are their top takeaways:
Keep the search going for the right lighting supplier and get them involved from the beginning. Sutton shares that “clients generally allow a 100mm gap for lighting, whereas solutions can be as low profile as 8mm deep (like Vertically Urban’s). So, in many cases, our offering enables clients to adjust the design and add more layers.”
Always choose Tier 1 LEDs. With over 25 years of experience in the lighting industry, Littler shares that these “output the best efficacy from the beginning, which is why we only work with Tier 1 level supply chain on LED chips.”
Don’t skimp out on your lights. Littler adds that clients often ask him why they should buy UK-manufactured lights versus low-cost imports. His answer: “you get what you pay for in performance. There’s a misconception that all LEDs last 50,000 hours plus. It really depends on the LED chips because cheaper options don't have the right thermal characteristics for longevity or offer efficacies for lower energy consumption from day one.”
Choose a very efficient spectrum that is tested and trialed. “We [Vertically Urban] have five different spectra for a reason. They all perform differently for different crops. When a client asks for grow lights for a specific crop, we can tell them which spectrum works best because of tests run in our in-house vertical farm and test lab.”
Be educated on the type of environment you’re growing in, for example an ebb and flow hydroponic setup requires a completely different approach to an aeroponic system. In a hydroponic environment, for instance, “you're working in a wet and humid environment causing electronic failures. Having the right Ingress Protection level is very important. Because of this, we resin fill and keep our power supplies outside of the room where possible.” This also removes excess heat from the room, reducing the pressure on your HVAC system.