High density, intensive indoor farming has long been seen as a major component in the fight against world hunger, particularly in areas where fertile land, or in fact any outdoor space, is at a premium.
Plants respond to different wavelengths of light than humans, so indoor farming typically involves the use of specialist light systems . However, until recently the lights used have been the same for different types of plants, despite the fact that it has been long known that different species respond better to different wavelengths.
However, now that LED technology has become cheap and widespread, this has changed, allowing custom “light recipies” to be developed for specific crops based on their optimum growing conditions. The result is a system that allows for rapid harvesting cycles – between 20 and 25 each year – providing a dramatic boost in overall output.
LEDs also have another benefit for effective growing; their low temperature enables them to be placed far closer to the plant than traditional lighting, which gives better light coverage, avoiding under-nourished patches.
The light recipe system has been developed by lighting heavyweights Philips, and the company is currently testing the system with Indiana-based vertical indoor growing company Green Sense Farms.
“Different plant types have different light needs and working with forward-thinking growers like GSF, Philips is building up a database of ‘light recipes’ for different plant varieties,” said Udo van Slooten, Director of horticultural lighting at Philips.
“GSF is using vertical hydroponic technology with Phillips LED growing lights, enabling them to do what no other grower can do: provide a consistent amount of high quality produce, year round.”
GSF grows its plants in fourteen growing towers measuring a whopping 25ft (7.6m) each in height.
“By growing our crops vertically, we are able to pack more plants per acre than we would have in a field farm, which results in more harvests per year,” said Robert Colangelo, founding farmer and president of Green Sense Farms. “We produce little waste, no agricultural runoff and minimal greenhouse gasses because the food is grown where it is consumed.”
Such vertical farms are being hailed as the solution to feeding ever-growing urban populations, a key concern given that the United Nations is predicting that 80% of the global population will live in cities by 2050, equivalent to roughly 7.6 billion people.
Given that far more space is likely to be taken up with buildings to accommodate these people, farms will need to operate in areas that cannot be used for housing, such as underground. A vertical farming system that can actually keep up with food demands is going to vital is we are to feed everyone, and this system could well play a vital role.
Images courtesy of Philips.