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Lighting can help plants achieve full potential

When it comes to farming, the world continues to face challenges in crucial areas such as food security and the increased need to provide clean, non-GMO, and pesticide-free crops for plant-based proteins, medicines, and supplements.

"Unprecedented demand from consumers requires farmers and the AgTech industry to develop advanced farming approaches that are more sustainable, clean, and provide a consistent quality crop. On a global level, there is a growing call for vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based food products to provide better nutritional value, taste, and freshness than what has, unfortunately, become the norm today," according to Troy McCellan, Vice-President with AgriFORCE Growing Systems. 

Developing new lighting science
New lighting technology combined with innovations in leveraging natural sunlight can turn costly, energy-inefficient indoor grow operations into eco-friendly solutions for sustainable, flavorful, nutrient-rich produce that are locally harvested. For an industry immersed in tradition and constrained by legacy systems, this new strategy is a blueprint for our future.

"In the last several years, science has provided a deeper understanding of how light affects the human body throughout the day. We are now finding similar data regarding how artificial lighting impacts plants, primarily driven by concerns over food insecurity and the growing interest in plant-based proteins and medicines," Troy explains.

One key area of natural light research is its impact on indoor farming, which depends heavily on artificial lighting. The conventional ag-lighting technologies used today have not yet fully evolved to provide optimal growth conditions. For plants to thrive in an indoor commercial growing operation, we need to understand what plants need at the biological level, similar to what we continue to learn about humans and light.

Offering improved systems
"With all the costs that indoor farming faces, growers often seek the least expensive farming methods. That’s rarely the approach that provides the best value," Troy adds. As the cost of LED lighting continues to drop and its efficacies continue to evolve, many growers have moved away from other horticultural lighting sources like halogen, fluorescent, or, most prominently, high-intensity discharge (HID) technology. LEDs consume less power which leads to reduced energy costs, less crop-directed thermal energy, reduced HVAC costs, extended life expectancy for the plants, reduced maintenance costs, and most importantly, ensured continuity and stability.

Even with these cost savings, indoor growers needing to stretch budgets, continue to pursue the cheapest LED lighting options. The abundance of mass-market, off-the-shelf Ag-LED options are often ineffective for agriculture. Most horticultural LED lighting is a decade behind the current professional lighting industry, and selecting these inexpensive products can result in sub-optimal performance.

Beginning with the plant's biology
"Our collaborative team of architects, engineers, plant and bio-specialists, lighting designers, former NASA scientists, and lighting manufacturers have partnered to develop proven, bioscience and tech-driven supplemental grow lighting systems for indoor farming. The results are proprietary LED lighting solutions – combined with natural sunlight – to help plants achieve optimal flavor, nutrition, and yield potential, while significantly decreasing energy consumption," says Troy.

One of the many challenges for indoor growers is in providing plants with enough of the right light for effective photosynthesis to grow optimally, regardless of the geographical location.

The design of a supplemental lighting platform starts by applying science and bioresearch. This provides an understanding of the performance metrics of the plant's biology, which is used to develop the near-ideal supplemental lighting conditions for each specific crop.

"We also recognize the need to augment natural sunlight with supplemental LED grow lighting to create controlled conditions that produce far more robust, flavorful, and higher-yield crops. This process enables less utility demand, lowering the environmental impact," Troy states.

Optimizing desired crop traits
This new hybrid proprietary lighting technology was partially inspired by NASA's bio generative life control systems designed for space habitats. High-yield LED fixtures provide patent-pending technology that delivers more yield than typical ag-LED fixtures. The spectrum is scientifically engineered for optimal Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) photon efficacy, the specific light spectrum plants prefer for photosynthesis. In the same way, humans depend on a balanced relationship of light energy and spectrum, plants depend on the same connection.

In fine-tuning the spectrum contribution, a plant's photoreceptors can influence growth within different developmental stages, making it possible to enhance plant growth cycles, productivity, and yield by aligning the supplemental light wavelength. With the new methodology, programable LED fixtures offer customized lighting criteria, optimizing desired crop traits.

The improved platform can achieve a uniform blanket of light that can easily be managed to attain the most effective light penetration into the plant canopy.

Creating new ground
For indoor farming, integrating biotech with advanced supplemental lighting delivers the best elements of natural light. As a result, more desirable and cost-effective crops can be grown in full natural sunlight, supplemented with artificial lighting.

Combining natural sunlight with supplemental grow lighting significantly enhances and extends the crop's photoperiod beyond natural daylight hours, maximizes growth and quality, and can reduce harvest time by up to 50%. This new precision growing system uses up to 90% less energy than traditional indoor grow operations.

"It’s time to address best practices for indoor farming to maximize natural light for our crops; to provide a consistent and as near-perfect as possible light spectrum, allowing crops to flourish. At the end of the day, crops that are given the ability to thrive will give consumers what they are demanding: more flavorful, more nutritious food on their plates," Troy concludes.

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