Lighting the Way

LED technology continues to make news as growers look for ways to increase yields and drive down energy cost for supplemental/assimilation lighting, especially in high and middle latitudes where day length is short. The development of the high-brightness blue LED has also seen the emergence of plant factories in urban environments to grow a range of fresh greens for consumer consumption, rather than import produce over long distances. In fact, plant factories have become the fastest growing sector in the protected cropping industry in cities across the world.

Owing to Australia’s abundance of sunshine, plant factories and LEDs are not part of the horticulture landscape, but they do have a place for propagation and bringing cut flowers to market on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. So, it’s appropriate to review the latest research from Canada, evaluating LED technology as supplemental/assimilation lighting for the production of cut flowers. While the trials demonstrated increased yields and lower energy costs compared to conventional HPS lighting, there is still much more work needed to determine the colour balance of LEDs for important commercial crops. In this issue we also profile the first and largest USDA organic certified urban farm in the US, where LED technology is expected to increase yields by 30-40% as well as reduce energy costs.

Also, lighting the way is the Dutch horticulture industry, under difficult economic circumstances. The annexation of Crimea, the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 over war-torn Eastern Ukraine, and the subsequent economic sanctions and boycotts, have had a heavy impact on both Russia and countries in the European Union (EU), particularly in the greenhouse horticulture sector. With recovery from the global financial crisis (GFC) still ongoing, the sanctions are a double whammy for growers supplying Russian markets, as well as creating food security issues in Russia. The sanctions show just how sensitive the horticulture industry is to external factors. European growers who supply products such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to Russia, will be hoping that they can rely on additional support from the banks and other lenders to get them through the current crisis.

The sanctions have also impacted on greenhouse constructors and equipment suppliers, particularly in the Netherlands, which turned to ‘technology transfer’ markets to weather the GFC. To some extent, innovative Dutch greenhouse technology has insulated the industry from the full impact of the current crisis. Dutch greenhouse companies now operate across the world, many working in conjunction with the Dutch government on initiatives such as the SMART project in Rwanda, which is reviewed in this issue. By combining Dutch technology with the local expertise of farmers and training institutions, both countries see a clear win-win-situation.

As we come to the end of another year, I would like to wish our readers and advertisers a safe and happy festive season; a time to relax, reflect and renew with family and friends as we prepare for the challenges of 2015. In the Chinese zodiac, 2015 is the Year of the Sheep (also known as the Year of the Goat), a symbol of peace, harmonious co-existence and tranquillity. It is also the ‘International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies’, a United Nations observance that aims to raise awareness of the achievements of light science and its applications, and its importance to humankind. Ω

Steven Carruthers

PH&G December 2014 / Issue 150