In the ZON magazine series ‘Michiel F. van Ginkel in conversation with’, director Michiel F. van Ginkel from Dutch auction ZON fruit & vegetables, has a talk each time with a different conversation partner who has a relationship with ZON. This time he has a conversation with Frank van Holsteijn, Key Account Manager at Philips Horticulture LED Solutions.
Written by John Huijs
Michiel: Since when is Philips working on LED lighting application in horticulture?
Frank: Philips Lighting started about ten years ago with research into the application possibilities of colored LED light in greenhouses. It took a number of years before there was a knowledge base. In 2011 this led to a large-scale vegetable project with LED lighting in greenhouses. You can have LED lighting, but you also must be able to apply it, so knowledge is just as important as the product itself. Together they form the tools that the grower can use.
Michiel: You look not only at growth, but also at the qualities, sugar content, taste and the like. How should I imagine that?
Frank: We are active in different segments. We have the application of LED in the greenhouse in addition to daylight. And we have the segment of city farming, this is closed cultivation. These are two totally different applications. In the greenhouses you use additional light. That also means that you must be able to create added value. Then you should think about aspects such as energy saving/ durability, production increase, quality/shelf life, year round cultivation and predictable growth.
In addition, with certain light recipes you can achieve certain qualities that the plant can attain. That's already happening. Recently, Philips Lighting announced that its GrowWise Research Center in Eindhoven has, without daylight, produced a vitamin C-rich rucola that contains seven times more vitamin C than the USDA published value of 15 mg/100 gr. The results of this test show that it is possible to add functional qualities to a food like rucola in a natural way by simply a different way of cultivation.
Michiel: What role do growers play in the research to the application of LED lighting?
Frank: In addition to the tests in the research environment, we focus on plant-technical research at growers’. We want to see what the added value is in practice. You can find something out in a laboratory, but it must work in practice. We also bring all those international growers together in order to promote the exchange of knowledge. When we started with that four years ago, the growers were a bit unfamiliar with each other. Meanwhile, growers from Canada, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, have progressed so far that they also meet on their own initiative to exchange experiences. It becomes a kind of community.
Michiel: Is lighting that you are offering in Canada different from here in the Netherlands; Does the light recipe depend on latitude?
Frank: No, the intensities are different though. In Scandinavia there is almost no light in winter, so you have to add a lot of light to be able to cultivate in winter. In the Netherlands, in winter, we have more light than in Scandinavia, so you need to add less light. The light recipes for the various crops are the same throughout the world, only the intensities vary.
Michiel: Do you also collaborate with seed companies?
Frank: Most certainly, we are looking to get in touch with seed breeders, but seed companies are also approaching us, because they see that their customers are also active with the development of lighting. In doing so, they would like to take the step to start lighting with LEDs so that in this aspect they can better select their varieties.
Michiel: Last winter there were delivery problems with Spanish product due to the gloomy weather over there. Now some people are suggesting that we can better light tomato cultivation here because it would be more reliable than the product from Spain. Can you tell me about that?
Frank: We generally see that year round production is an important driving force for greenhouse growers to start lighting their crops. The factors energy and sustainability are also becoming more and more important. The incident in Spain causes some acceleration. New contacts arise between trade and growers. Not only for lighting of tomatoes, but also for cucumbers.
Michiel: You would say that peppers would be the second crop.
Frank: Peppers are starting now and will be the big third.
Michiel: Will eventually all the crops be lighted?
Frank: I think that eventually it will happen for all products, but essential in this regard is the sale, so where are you going with your product? There must be demand from the market to take the step with lighting. There is no grower who will say in advance: let me install lighting and I'll see what I am going to do with my product. It starts with demand from the market. Then you start calculating with lighting and only after that, the step might be taken.
Michiel: So this is really a demand-driven development.
Frank: Right. This is not directly related to investment costs, but with the development that financiers are still less willing to finance companies that mass produce. They focus more on costs. Backing your business plan, there must be a thought-out plan for the sales. Where are you going with your product? It is also the question of what the trade wants. Do you want a product that is purely cost-effective or do they want a product that is stable in terms of taste and shelf-life and that is of top quality. By the way, this applies not only to LED but also to traditional lighting. Just installing lamps will cause failure.
Michiel: Why does LED take such a big leap compared to traditional lighting?
Frank: That's a whole package. On one hand this has to do with knowledge development. On the other hand with the demand from the market. Consumers are increasingly valuing sustainability. Year round and predictable growth are also important factors in this. With daylight and traditional lighting you cannot properly control all those variables. Because LED is a cold lighting, it enables you to disconnect light and heat from each other. With LED you can control the climate far better than with traditional lighting.
Michiel: So you can also see LED as a next step to gain control over the production process.
Frank: Of course, that applies fully to indoor grow without daylight, because then you control all aspects: temperature, humidity, CO2 content, light spectrum, light intensity, substrate, nutrition.
Michiel: Are you also in contact with greenhouse builders?
Frank: Certainly, because they have a very wide network and we also see that there is an increasing demand for LED lighting from their customers. LED is then included in the design.
Michiel: In the Netherlands it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain GMO subsidies from Brussels; more and more producer organizations don’t pursue it anymore. Does that delay the development of LED?
Frank: We have never depended on grants. So we do not expect that it will make a difference. This GMO is more an advantage for afterwards, but that is beyond the scope of how we work.
Michiel: Can you indicate where this whole LED development is going?
Frank: In the coming years we expect an exponential growth, the fact that LED lighting is increasingly used in more cultivations and crops, and also in more and more countries. Worldwide there is still an awful lot of traditional agricultural land to be lighted with LED. Certainly as you keep in mind that the world's population continues to grow strongly in the coming decades. In addition, we focus on indoor grow without daylight cultivation because we expect that, next to traditional horticulture, this will increase sharply.
Michiel: Does the latter take place close to the consumer on roofs in big cities or does indoor grow without daylight cultivation move to a more industrial production environment?
Frank: I think more of the last, for the simple reason that you also need a decent cultivation area for urban farming to feed the population of metropolitan areas. As a result, indoor grow without daylight cultivation will become much more a peripheral issue. Also the cultivation in greenhouses will be further optimized. There certainly remains a future for this too.
Michiel: Just name an effect that may have been underexposed so far.
Frank: Plants that are lighted are usually much better balanced than plants that are not lighted. This leads to crops that last longer and products that have a longer shelf-life in the chain. That is also noticed by the trade. If the trade is willing to pay for that, it becomes appealing.
Michiel: If a grower reads this story and thinks, I need to do something with my lighting as well. What would then be a plan of action for him?
Frank: It's important to see if you've got full control over your other production factors, including your sales. That is the basis for taking the step towards further optimization through lighting. We have developed a tool for that, the TCO tool. TCO stands for Total Cost of Ownership. This tool gives insight into the effect of light. For a grower at the bottom, lighting does not make sense. If you want a racing driver to perform well, he must be experienced, must master racing well and have a good car. With only a good car you can’t succeed.