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Light recipes for vertical farming
Early phases of developing strategies in which light can be used to optimize plant growth


The United Nations predict that the world population will reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, up from the current 7.8 billion. Access to nutritious and affordable foods will be key to a healthy population free from hunger. Developments in Agricultural have secured enough food along the centuries but an additional aid comes today from Horticulture, defined as "the science that employs special techniques and methods to cultivate plants, including methods used to properly condition the soil for seed planting or planting tubers".


The domain of horticulture includes cultivation, plant propagation, breeding of plants, production of crops, plant physiology as well as biochemistry and genetic engineering. Horticulture includes solutions for vertical farming addressing "weekend farmers" - customers wanting crops being grown closer to where they are getting consumed. Advancements in sensor technology and associated embedded electronics have driven the costs down significantly. Plants need light to grow, and it is basically another kind of lighting (on another wavelength). In other words, humans see visible light, whereas plants perceive and respond to electromagnetic radiation. LED horticultural lighting technology was developed considering how physiological responses such as photosynthesis and flowering vary depending on the wavelength of light. Horticultural lighting design is a fascinating and ongoing discussion among lighting designers, luminaire manufacturers, horticulturists, and floriculturists.


Access to sunlight in indoor vertical farms is not a guarantee. Thus, smart use of artificial lighting is crucial in such situations. According to Financial Times, vertical farming companies raised around 700 million USD of investment funds during the last six years. Although most of horticultural installations till now have involved a mix of high-pressure sodium (HPS) and LED lighting, the horticultural lighting market is quickly evolving in a 100% LED based. LEDs save energy, do not heat and allow a wide offer of "light recipes". Various combinations of colours, or "light recipes", could be used to manipulate plant morphology (shape), yield, and nutrient content of any crop species. Not all plants respond the same way to the same recipe, but that each crop has an ideal lighting regime that can be identified. It all depends on the needs of the grower. Some recipes are more effective only during certain points of the cycle, and some are more beneficial when provided over the entire cycle. Reportedly, we are only at the beginning of discovering the numerous strategies in which light can be used to optimize plant growth. Not to be missed, legal medical marijuana, now developed especially in California.


LED lighting for Horticulture is becoming a more than promising market niche. LED horticultural lighting started approximately in 2017 and today is a 1.0-1.5 billion Eur market, to reach 1.5-2.0 billion Eur in 2023. The expected growth rate is a prudent +6% yearly, or a more enthusiastic double digit. It is still a relatively open market, where manufacturers of LED modules (Signify, Lumileds, Seoul, LG, to quote some) supply to several OEM customers. Although we are just at an early stage, lots of players are already active in the field of Horticultural lighting: Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Osram (the Zelion series, including controls and accessories), Cree (since 2018), Epistar, Eaton, Hortilux, Ushio, Maxlite, Aurora, Apollo Lighting, Everlight, Plessey, Hubbell, Lumigrow, Kessil, Lemnis Oregon, GC LED, Easy Grow, CaliforniaLightworks, Mars Hydro, Shenzhen Longood, Cree, King LED, Spectrum King, Lumileds, Ledvance, and Nichia.


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