Post-pandemic demand and lack of supply have seen surging natural gas prices in Europe and the UK, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has now taken costs to another level. Just when the sector was looking at un-buckling its seat belt, the road ahead will continue to test and challenge. So in the midst of unprecedented rising gas prices, it is imperative for growers to take some control back with costs and seek out areas they can be more energy efficient.
Impact on glasshouse growers
Even before 2022 reared its head, glasshouse growers in Hertfordshire’s Lea Valley – which produces 75 percent of Britain’s cucumbers, sweet peppers, and aubergines – were struggling due to high energy bills and post-Brexit labor shortages. Now, over half of the Lea Valley Grower Association’s 370 acres of glasshouses are lying dormant as crippling costs forced producers to cease planting in January, February and March. Gas is used to heat the greenhouses and regulate the temperature to produce high-yielding commercial crops. Hence why rocketing gas prices have also forced Suffolk's largest tomato producer to cease production three years after producing its first fruit and only a year since it announced expansion plans.
The fuel crisis has also impacted the Netherlands, one of the biggest exporters of fruit and veg, as supplies there dwindle. This is driving increased UK imports of salad crops from Spain and Morocco, which in turn will inevitably increase salad veg prices, as transportation costs from Morocco rise.
While this turns up the heat on the debate around improving UK food security and having a more self-sufficient food system, costs will still nevertheless be impacted as we rely on fuel to transport produce around the country. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom.
Benefits of LED grow lighting
Let’s take lighting. Greenhouse LED lighting plays a critical role in ensuring plant yield and health all year round, and LED lighting systems are designed to meet the changing and demanding needs of growers who want to get more from their plants and greenhouse investments. With the science to back them up and with careful management, they can fundamentally change plant growth, health, and yield.
Studies have found that grow lights are instrumental in providing growers with richer control over greenhouse growth outputs and optimization. LED grow lights are designed to be as energy-efficient as possible while still delivering the required light output at scale. If they are laid out efficiently, meeting very tightly managed design standards, they can maximize plant growth and health with minimal demands on power.
Research has also found that LED grow lights are the most cost and energy-efficient solution for indoor tomato growing. Not only that, but the research also proved that the fruit quality wasn’t affected – in fact it remained consistent across multiple lighting options using LED grow lights.
More energy-efficient, less cost
As well as cutting costs without cutting out quality, LED lighting lasts for longer. The diodes have a longer lifespan than other lighting solutions which means the cost of replacement bulbs doesn’t hit the bottom line as often as with competitor solutions.
In fact, when looking at more traditional HPS lighting, a typical 600W product will deliver around 1185umol/s. With LED lighting achieving up to 3.3umol/j (subject to emission spectrum), the equivalent energy requirement could be as low as 360W, effectively offering up to a 40% energy saving when compared to the standard HPS lamps. And ongoing maintenance is almost halved too when you compare the life of an LED product versus a typical HPS product.
LED grow lights consume less power, deliver a better return on investment and cost less to maintain than HPS grow lights. The costs can be measurably managed and reduced over the long term, making it a cost-effective option – and with gas prices showing no sign of abating, now is perhaps the time for growers to focus on key areas where they can control expense through reduced CAPEX and OPEX costs.
CEA funding opportunities
Following on from last year’s private funding boom in indoor agriculture which saw private fundraising tripling in comparison to 2020, the trend is set to continue as tech development offers the prospect of more sustainable farming methods and is paving the way for industry growth. With more investment will come more opportunity for growers to seize the benefits of LED grow lighting and in doing so, increase crop yield while making a tidy cost saving that delivers long-term value to the bottom line.