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US (MA): Lettuce grower reduces winter crop cycle by over 25% using LEDs

Atlas Farm is a certified organic farm in South Deerfield, MA. Gideon Porth founded Atlas Farm in 2003 to help connect people to their food and be a model for sustainable agricultural practices. The 95-acre farm uses its acre of greenhouse space to propagate lettuce, tomatoes, bok choy, herbs, and several specialty crops year-round, and grow lettuce throughout the winter. Most of the crops grown on Atlas Farm start their lives in one of the farm’s greenhouse bays. 

A disproportionate amount of resources
The Atlas Farm Store relies on greenhouse-grown lettuce to draw customers in and help the farm sell its higher value storage crops like potatoes and squash during the winter. However, each lettuce crop cycle took up to 3 months during the dark Massachusetts winter. The plants were also unhealthily stretched out. Gideon felt that he was putting in a disproportionate amount of resources and time for the amount of lettuce his greenhouses were producing. Gideon decided that he was no longer willing to accept simply breaking even on his winter lettuce crop each year.

“We weren’t getting the production out of the plants that would capitalize on those [water and heat] inputs,” says Gideon, “I decided we needed to go for it and invest in lighting.” 

Since Gideon had never lit his greenhouse crops before, he sought the advice of other local farmers to help direct his search. The local utility’s energy efficiency rebate program, combined with fellow farmers’ positive experiences growing with LEDs, convinced Gideon to focus his research exclusively on LED fixtures.

Gideon considered several other LED lighting providers but was ultimately sold on LumiGrow’s high level of customer service.

“[Our account manager] Nick was good about getting us a lot of information about the lights and providing guidance for lighting our crops from LumiGrow Research,” recalls Gideon, “We didn’t have as good of a response from other companies.”

From stretched out to compact and healthy
After a successful trial propagating tomatoes and lettuce, Atlas Farm implemented LumiGrow fixtures across all 4 bays of its greenhouse. 

Before Gideon installed his LumiGrow fixtures, his tomato seedlings grown during the dark Massachusetts winter were stretched and unhealthy. His LumiGrow-lit tomato seedlings are more compact, with short internodal spacing. Gideon has also noted that their roots fill out the pots more than his unlit seedlings did and that they quickly establish themselves after transplant. 

Gideon’s lettuce seedlings were also more compact and showed better root growth, which encouraged him to grow baby lettuce and brassica greens for salad mix under supplemental lighting from seed to harvest. The results so far reaffirmed that he’d chosen wisely – the LumiGrow fixtures have reduced his lettuce’s average crop cycle by over 25%, which allows him to fit in additional crop turns. 

“We are seeing crops ready for harvest 9-11 days earlier than without lights, with less stretching, and improved quality,” says Gideon, “Our salad mix crops took 36-38 days in past winters.”

Gideon estimates that Atlas Farm will see at least 20-25% more profit from this winter’s lettuce production thanks to the addition of the LumiGrow light fixtures. 

Spectrum’s disease suppression abilities
Gideon also got to experience LumiGrow light spectrum’s disease suppression abilities. When Atlas Farm’s young lettuce seedlings got a serious infestation of downy mildew, Gideon kept his lettuce plants under supplemental light for 24 hours a day. By the time the seedlings were mature enough to transplant, the downy mildew disease pressure had decreased substantially. Gideon is thrilled to have an additional pest control tool to protect his lettuce crops with.

“With organic growing, our disease management tools are pretty limited,” says Gideon, “It’s a double whammy to get the lights for growth as well as a disease management tool.”

In keeping with organic farming practices, Atlas Farm utilizes crop-rotation, biological controls, and cultivar selection to manage insects and disease. Gideon prefers to only spray organic pest controls as a last resort. Gideon was intrigued by the research that demonstrated that various light spectrums could be used to control pests and diseases. 

After his success using the standard LumiGrow spectrum to control downy mildew, Gideon wanted to try to use his fixtures to help aphid predators establish themselves in the greenhouse. His biological control supplier advised Gideon to provide his predator insects with additional light during the winter. Gideon applied a few additional hours of supplemental light each day, which helped boost the predator’s population. 

From the field into the greenhouse
Atlas Farm’s sustainability ethos spans every aspect of the farm, from how they fertilize and fight pests to how they heat their greenhouse and power the farm. Gideon is constantly innovating and strategizing ways to minimize the farm’s environmental footprint. This past year, Atlas Farm expanded their solar installation. The 65-kWh solar installation provides 100% of the electricity for the Atlas Farm Store and the surrounding 40 acres of farmland. Overall, Gideon is happy that LumiGrow has helped him bring that same level of innovation from the field into his greenhouse.

For more information:
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