As light emitting diodes (LEDs) become more efficient and more affordable, an increasing number of greenhouse and plant factory growers will consider installing LED luminaires to light their crops. In the case of greenhouse growers, these luminaires would provide light to supplement natural sunlight. For plant factory growers, production depends entirely on the light provided by an artificial light source including LEDs, high pressure sodium or metal halide luminaires.
According to University of Georgia horticulture professor Marc van Iersel, the electricity for supplemental lighting in a greenhouse accounts for 20-30 percent of variable costs. In the case of plant factories which rely solely on artificial light, the electricity cost accounts for 50-60 percent of the variable costs.
Van Iersel is heading up a $5 million, four-year research project that will focus on enabling growers to maximize the return on their lighting investment. Funding for the Lighting Approaches to Maximize Profits (LAMP) project is being provided by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative. The team that has been assembled to work on the project includes 15 university researchers, an advisory panel of greenhouse and plant factory growers and industry consultants.
“The job of the advisory grower panel is to make sure that the research that we do is actually what they need,” van Iersel said. “These are growers who will directly benefit from the research. We are also working with consultants who represent a big section of the industry. We are looking to them to help disseminate the information generated by the research to the industry.
“The research is looking to determine how growers can maximize their return on investment. There has been a lot of research done on how to grow plants with LED lights. We know growers can produce plants with lights. But what we don’t really know is how can growers make the most money doing it.”