Farms of the Future: The Advance of Agricultural LED Lighting

Fluorescent, induction, and high-intensity discharge lighting are slowly becoming obsolete sources for indoor agricultural lighting applications. Often the sheer variety of types of lamps can be staggering, and identifying the best candidate to imitate actual sunlight can provide a challenge. In situations where opportunities for natural lighting is limited, such as urban gardens, new research is providing alternative lighting methods that prove to be economically viable, in comparison to traditional growth-promoting lighting methods.

Early Attempts

Historical data dating back to the mid-19th century reveals that agricultural lighting mimicked the typical use of lighting by individuals and industry. Though the intent was true, incandescent filament lighting was not designed for agricultural applications, and produced sustained elevated levels of infrared radiation and heat that caused abnormal stem growth in many species of vegetation.

Over the past 150 years, lighting designed for transportation and highways, as well as warehouses and manufacturing facilities, has been used in the growing of vegetation with results that were rather limited in realizing the full potential for generating bountiful harvests. Practical at the time of their use, traditional forms of indoor agricultural lighting such as fluorescent, and high intensity discharge lamps, often were found to waste a good portion of the energy which it consumed, which resulted in elevated electrical expenditures, thus compromising the intent of indoor gardening.

Stepping Into the Light

With advances in contemporary lighting technology, through years of research and in-field applications, scientists have discovered that LED lights are the most practical and cost efficient method for stimulating the indoor growth of vegetation. Technology has made it possible for LED lighting to facilitate the necessary photo-morphological and photosynthetic requirements of vegetation. This enables vegetation to grow at a quicker pace, without waste, and in more locations.

LED lights are lightweight and need not be situated close to vegetation, as fluorescent bulbs necessitate. They do not need costly cooling systems as traditional lighting methods do. By developing methods to control and manipulate the colors of light produced, the latest generation of agricultural lighting appears dimmer to the human eye but is designed to create optimal conditions for photosynthesis. This can reduce energy consumption and its associated costs up to 70%, making this technology accessible and cost-effective for a wide variety of applications.

The advent of LED light for indoor agricultural applications is a contributing factor to reducing food shortages around the world. Practical in situations where the terrain is not compatible for vegetation growth, LED lighting foster’s innovative ways to grow vegetation. As this technology develops, it becomes easier than ever to picture a world where low cost, fresh food is available, regardless of climate, year round.

General Lighting LED

Turkeys love LED, too!

I, Dr. Bulb have found a new fellow LED enthusiast! Mike Langmo, a Minnesota turkey farmer, installed dimmable, programmable LED lamps in one of his barns in order to simulate natural light patterns indoors. The turkeys don’t even have to venture outside to experience a beautiful sunrise or sunset—a personal dream of Dr. Bulb!

Simulating natural lighting patterns isn’t just for fun—it can help regulate the birds’ circadian rhythms, possibly resulting in healthier, more productive flocks. It hasn’t been 100% proven, but Langmo noticed that the turkeys seem to be converting weight to food more efficiently in the LED barn than the barn still lined with high-pressure sodium lights. Also, the lighting seems to have reduced fighting among the turkeys. I love the idea of fat, peaceful birds!

While the LED lamps provide possible happiness and optimum sunlight for the turkeys, they also cut down energy costs for Langmo. The lamps are 87% more efficient than the 100-watt incandescent lamps that once lined the barn’s ceilings. Although he had to use more LED lamps than incandescent lamps, the barn is still using less electricity than it had previously.

I was thrilled to find that Langmo isn’t the only farmer in Minnesota trying LED lamps. He is part of a state-funded study, The Minnesota Project, that’s trying to document the performance of LED lighting in poultry barns. They even received a grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce in 2011 to evaluate the LED products.

And the support didn’t end there. The Minnesota Project partnered with Once Innovations, a company that manufactures LED lights for barns, and found dozens of farmers to test out the lights in their barns. They concluded that, so far, the durable LED lamps are holding up under the hot, dusty conditions of turkey barns. Another important benefit!

Another alternative many farmers are turning to is CFLs, which have the possibility of mercury contamination if they happen to break inside the barn. I, Dr. Bulb do not like the sound of unhealthy turkeys!

The Minnesota Project hopes to give rural utilities the necessary information so that they can design more effective rebate programs around LED lighting on farms. Fritz Ebinger, the study’s clean energy manager, says the adoption of LED lighting on farms not only affects individual farmers, but entire rural economies. I get so excited when people start using LED lights for innovative uses, whether it be LED wallpacks, LED bollard lights or LED barn lights.

While not all farmers have switched over to LED lamps, The Minnesota Project and I, Dr. Bulb, hope that agricultural barns will soon move past the early-adopter phase. While at first LED lamps were too expensive for farmers to invest in lighting upgrades, prices have dropped significantly.

Productive turkeys, less energy consumption, and increased cost efficiency sound great to me!