Changing the Food Dynamic of Field to Table Farming with LED Grow Lights
As Earth’s ecosystems change and increasingly become plagued by unpredictable weather patterns, threats of increasing inequity looms. The escalation of severe, erratic storm patterns, the danger of salt water intrusion in coastal agricultural areas due to sea level rise and increased droughts and floods are all menacing risks to our traditional agricultural farming methods. The dire consequences from agricultural runoff, such as pollution and aquatic hypoxia, are telling symptoms of a failing system. Interestingly enough, cities may be supportive in strategies to overcome the problems associated with conventional farming techniques in this post-industrial age, where droughts, floods, diminishing arable land, depleted soil and CO2 emissions associated with long distance shipping deeply impact our ability to sustainably feed the global population. Indoor agriculture/farming is a promising prospect when looking to alleviate some of the causes and consequences of a stressed food-energy-water nexus, and LED grow lights may play a significant role in this new face of farming.
Growing indoors necessitates a systemic approach, where all inputs that feed into the system are meticulously managed. This imitation of natural grow cycles requires a controllable lighting source, careful manipulation of water, nutrient and humidity levels, as well as proper air flow. LEDs grow lights are a digital technology that can integrate systems for monitoring environmental cues with proper light wavelengths required for substantial plant growth. They will prove to be a key fixture in the indoor farming market for the following key reasons:
It is well known that LEDs are energy efficient, providing more lumens per watt than traditional lighting solutions. This is important when trying to simulate sunlight while simultaneously lowering energy demands in order to reduce carbon emissions and create a healthier world.
LED grow lights have a much longer life span that other commonly used lighting methods for indoor growing, such as fluorescent and High Intensity Discharge options. A longer life span offers benefits such as reduced maintenance costs, material use and waste to landfill. Reduced maintenance means less disturbance to plants during their growth cycle, and of course, a cost friendly alternative because time and effort of labor isn’t expelled on the task of changing light bulbs.
Longer life spans reduce waste in landfills, pollution from production, mining and shipping. The longer a product lasts, the more sustainable it is, both on the production side- reduced mining, energy for production, water and materials, and on the consumer side, as consumers are continually pumping money into replacements and the spent ones are sent to landfills. In this scenario, the cost of food is also impacted, as expenses associated with growing can drive food costs up.
During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in plants absorbs light energy from the visible spectrum. Plants respond best to red and blue wavelengths and for this reason, most grow lights put off a visibly purple ambient light. The most effective wavelengths for plants can be easily achieved from LED grow lights, creating faster growth and higher yield, however, the spectral tunability of LEDs means there is potential to offer peaks in both red and blue wavelengths for plant growth, while using color-mixing methods to offer an ambient white light that is more pleasant for humans to work under when harvesting or servicing the crops. When workers are present, a white light can be provided, still peaking in the red and blue spectrum for plants, but offering familiar conditions for workers’ health and comfort. When they are not present, plants can enjoy a high dose of their preferred wavelengths, and all other ‘wasted’ wavelengths can be reduced as an energy saving effort.
LED lighting is a digital platform, meaning there is an inherent capability to amalgamate numerous technologies into one form factor. This data-driven integration would be significant in achieving localized monitoring mechanisms, saving space, materials and energy, all of which are important in pursuing more sustainable agricultural methods. The attentive monitoring and control mechanisms achieved via a digitized approach can ensure the best growing conditions are delivered for individual crops specific to their current place in their growth cycle, resulting in just the right amount of inputs with nothing wasted, to create higher yield and thus, achieve agricultural efficiency. LED grow lights can also be tuned to geographic regions, or controlled via Bluetooth or timers, with a spectrum that can mimic the sun’s natural progression and output to that region, creating a faux outdoor environment that is conducive to plant growth, but devoid of threats such as high winds, flooding, drought, temperature changes, and even predators.
In the uncertainty surrounding our ability to feed our growing population through traditional agricultural methods, indoor farming may offer supplemental options. It presents an opportunity to provide local food in cities, reduce agricultural runoff and fertilizer pollution, soil degradation and substantial water use. By offering the option of growing vertically, the farming footprint is reduced. It also moderates risk associated with severe and volatile weather occurrences that can wipe out acres of crops. Even better, in some situations, there is opportunity to repurpose old abandoned buildings and rejuvenate cities by offering jobs and healthy, moderately priced food for local communities. LED grow lights can play an integral role in this new farming method, increasing crop yield and monitoring the ambient elements in an integrated form factor, offering a piece of the solution to our impending food crisis.