“Very few vertical farming companies manage to operate profitably. There are many challenges facing companies, such as high investment costs, operational costs and electricity usage,” says Irene Qian, Sales manager at Foshan HortiLite in China. Hortilite is a subsidiary of two listed LED lighting companies, FSL and Nantionstar.
Lighting is one of the key factors that can either make or break a vertical farming, Irene explains. After all, what sets a vertical farm apart from other growing systems is its dependency on artificial lighting. However, the parameters have to work for the crops. “The most important light factors to promote plant growth are light intensity, photoperiod, spectrum, and uniformity. If these aren’t adapted to the crops’ need, yields won’t be as good.”
Ensuring the right spectrum
What’s exceptionally tricky when it comes to lighting is choosing a suitable light spectrum. “Plants won’t grow effectively under a wrong spectrum. This spectrum also changes per growth stage as plants benefit with different wavelengths. During the vegetative state, for example, a blue spectrum suits best whereas a plant will prefer a red spectrum during the flowering stage,” Irene explains.
“If the light spectrum is not uniform, plants will grow unevenly, the taller ones affecting the light absorption of the shorter plants. Also, if the lamp is placed at the wrong distance, it might overheat the plants.”
Constant R&D to improve
In order to combat these problems, HortiLite is equipped with a plant laboratory where all the light spectra are verified by planting trials. Through trials with several plants, such as tomatoes, lettuce, and hemp, the company applies different spectra to collect and analyze data. “We’re constantly improving and verifying our products through these trials,” says Irene.
HortiLite collaborates with several agricultural universities on a broad range of research projects, To expand their research. “Plant growing lights are an interdisciplinary product that needs a lot of plant expertise support,” Irene explains. “We aim to carry out in-depth studies on the effects of different spectra on plant components, nutrients, and aromatic odors. This way, we provide a more science-based solution to support the development of the vertical farming industry.”
Wide product range
To support growers, HortiLite offers a wide range of lights for both greenhouses and vertical farms. Also smaller scale and hobby growers can purchase their LEDs there. “Before designing a proposal, we will make sure that we comprehend all the details of the entire project, such as the growing environment, growing facilities, planning drawings, and so on. Only then we will recommend the appropriate LED fixtures and the most suitable spectrum for each growth stage.”
In addition, HortiLite provides system solutions, project simulation, design, lighting and control system solutions for the entire vertical farm project. “We strongly believe that our science-based approach helps growers in making their vertical farm more profitable. After all, the success of a vertical farm depends on the crops, and crops depend on the perfect lighting.”