You may have heard a peer or friend talk favorably about LED lighting or heard a grower speak at a recent conference about the positive results they’re experiencing with LEDs. Your interest is piqued and while curious, you’re reluctant to make the investment. Perhaps you have a lower risk tolerance or you’re simply unsure because you heard LEDs are expensive.
If, indeed, you are curious and you want to gain an understanding of LED lighting, you can set up a small trial in your greenhouse and use the results to determine the path forward based on trial results and your needs and your business objectives.
Here are some considerations and guidelines for taking the first step with an LED lighting trial.
You’ll want to conduct a comparative trial — LEDs versus your existing lighting — in an area in your greenhouse that is representative of your everyday growing environment. Set up the LED installation in your main greenhouse rather than tucked away in a corner or in an area that is not used regularly.
One of the main factors of horticulture lighting is uniformity of light distribution. (The other factors are intensity, spectrum and duration.) Run your trial in an area that is large enough to study crop response under an area with uniform light distribution. Avoid an area that is too small.
We recommend starting with a trial area between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet. An area of this size will ensure uniform light distribution and allow you to trial the effect of LEDs on several cultivars so you can see how different cultivars respond to the light spectrum of LEDs.
When selecting cultivars for the trial, we suggest three considerations — all are related to helping you determine the return on investment: production volume, economics and objective.
- Production volume
By trialing LED lighting over crops that are your biggest sellers, you can quantify the ROI as it relates to your business. The reason for this is that improved results (faster or more turns) of your high-volume crops will allow you to include improvements in production in the payback calculation.
Trial LED grow lights with high-value crops. If you can improve transplant or finish rates of high-value crops and in turn, deliver more revenue, it is easier to understand the contribution value of LEDs.
If you have a crop or cultivar with a lower transplant rate, LEDs may improve results. Imagine the impact on revenue if you gained an improvement of 10% or 20% in the transplant rate of a difficult-to-propagate crop. See how Iwasaki Bros. Inc. improved the transplant rate of several light-loving crops with Philips LED toplighting.
Track the results
Designate one person to manage the trial and monitor the results for the duration of the trial. This will help with consistency and reduce variability in tracking, particularly with observations that are qualitative in nature, i.e. “better color.” It is also helpful to take comparative pictures during the process to show the results within your team as well as when consulting with our Philips Lighting Plant Specialist.
Measure the following characteristics on a weekly basis for the duration of the trial:
- Plant height/compactness
- Fill rate/survival rate
- Basal branching
- Transplant time
Also, record details of the growing conditions to track the effect on other crop inputs. These details would include growing conditions, climate, irrigation, fertility, PGR use, lighting times and shade curtain schedule.
Getting started with LED lighting does not need to be a daunting process. Instead, we encourage you start with a small trial and let your trial results provide guidance for developing your long-term business plan.
Ready to take the first step for your 2018 growing season? Contact a Philips Lighting-certified horticulture partner or send an email inquiry to email@example.com. We can guide through the process with your first trial with Philips LED lighting.
Photo: At Iwasaki Bros. Inc., side-by-side comparison of Petunia basket placed under LEDs (left) vs non-LED lit basket (right); Photo courtesy of Philips Lighting
Abhay Thosar, Ph.D.
Senior Plant Specialist
Philips Lighting - Horticulture LED Solutions