Success in agriculture is as difficult to predict as the weather. The industry is reliant on climate and even the slightest variation can throw off a commercial farming business’ yearly projections. Efficiency and consistency are paramount and technologies not originally designed for the field are beginning to make a difference for farmers and plant factory managers.
Taking nature out of the growing process is now allowing the agriculture industry to explore new methods.
Taking the Lead with LED
Hydroponics is hardly new, but the degree of technology working to make it more effective and efficient certainly is. Specifically, the use of LED lights unique to plant factories and farms. In Cincinnati for example, there are warehouses full of hydroponically-grown vegetables receiving LED light. There, Mike Zelkind, CEO of 80 Acres Farms, is experimenting with different light color combinations and creating crops with different leaf shapes and hues.
Color-combinations are more easily created using LED lights. With the right light recipe a grower can, in addition to changing leaf tints and shapes, affect flavor, vitamin and antioxidant levels, when the plants flower, and even shelf-life.
Being indoors, the growing season is year-round. In his 12,000-foot warehouse, Zelkind is able to “produce 200,000 pounds of leafy greens, vine crops, herbs and microgreens annually,” according to the Washington Post.
LED lights not only allow growers to use different colored lights to produce different outcomes, they are also much more energy-efficient. Also, they do not produce much heat, allowing them to be used for seedlings and microgreens, and allowing growers to better control the climate. This, along with the increased power and dropping prices of LED are making hydroponics much more feasible.
The High-Tech Future of Vegetable Farming
As The Washington Post observes, “LED light shipments to growers worldwide are expected to grow at an annual average rate of 32 percent until 2027,” and the work being done by Zelkind and his contemporaries will only increase growers’ demand for LED lighting. Both researchers envision a future in which LED plays its part in improving food production and making it more sustainable.
2017 Mexico National Youth Award recipient Alfredo Costilla-Reyes developed a system that constantly monitors temperature, water, light, and nutrients that notifies users on their iPhone app if they need to make adjustments to any of these variables. He is also able to predict how well his plants will do from the data bank he has developed from his work. Further, he is currently working on adding an artificial intelligence (AI) angle to completely automate this entire process. All of this has come together in a company called BitGrange.
Costilla-Reyes, though, takes things much further. He wants to educate children about how they can grow their own food this way, and he is working on gamifying his system to make it more attractive. Because of his work, he was not only recognized by the Mexican government, he was also granted the Kirchner Food Fellowship for the work he had done to develop BitGrange. There is little doubt he will continue to receive recognition for the ground-breaking work.
Costilla-Reyes and Zelkind are both proving that the future of farming will involve LED lighting. With the ability to more finely adjust and control LED, meaning it works well with emerging IoT and AI technology, grocers are bound to see many more vegetables and flowers grown in city warehouses around the world, bringing fresh, local produce on a more consistent and efficient basis.
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