In order to investigate the potential for LED Technology to be used in horticulture, it set up a facility called LED4CROPS. In addition to the multilayer system in the climate-controlled facility without daylight, STC also recently started working with LED interlighting and toplighting to examine the effects of different LED lights on long-season crops such as tomatoes.
The new LED4CROPS facility is housed in a 200 m2 building and has over 40 benches that are growing plants in a multi-tier array. The benches are equipped with LED grow lights, which can be adjusted to test different light recipes.
The right light recipes
The LED4CROPS trials are helping to establish the best way to use supplementary lighting for crops like herbs, leafy salads, flowers and strawberries. With the correct light recipe, it may be possible to produce strawberries even in the winter months. And if LED light can be used in place of daylight, it means that plants like strawberries can be grown in a vertical storage system in warehouses. This would not have been possible previously, because a multi-tiered system in a greenhouse would result in the lower layers of plants being shaded from daylight.
STC science director Dr Martin McPherson is enthusiastic: “LED technology opens the door to the concept of urban farming. You can grow crops in multi-storey warehouses, close to point of consumption.” According to his colleague, STC CEO Graham Ward, the prospects for growers are bright: “A normal lettuce grower can produce five crops a year. With this system, we can grow fifteen.”
Because the LED system does not use green light, it requires less energy than a normal white light would. This results in serious energy savings for the operators.