Controlled environment agriculture (greenhouses and plant factories) can help meet the challenge of more intensive, profitable, and sustainable specialty crop production. The greenhouse industry is a well-established and important component of US agriculture, with a 2015 farm-gate value of ~$6.5 billion. For efficient year-round production in greenhouses, supplemental light is often beneficial, but the expenses can be high. The electricity required for supplemental lighting in greenhouses can account for up to 20-30% of variable costs.
Plant factories, an emerging technology where plants are grown indoors, provide total control over environmental conditions, but production relies entirely on electric lighting. Electric lighting and air-conditioning combined can account for 50-60% of the variable costs in plant factories.
A recent Department of Energy report estimated the total annual costs of providing supplemental lighting in controlled environment agriculture to be ~$600,000,000/year in the US. More cost-effective lighting approaches will have a major impact on the sustainability and profitability of controlled environment agriculture (greenhouses and plant factories), reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and thus provide benefits for the controlled environment agriculture industry, society, and the environment.
We will help growers get more value out of their lighting systems by providing horticultural and economical information and tools to manage the lights for optimal crop growth and quality and to maximize the return on investment.
Our goal is to help CEA growers reduce production costs, while giving them more control over crop growth and quality. More cost-effective lighting approaches will reduce energy use and increase profitability. Manipulating light spectrum and intensity can be used to control crop growth and quality. Our overarching goal is to help growers make better lighting decisions and maximize the return on investment of their lighting systems. This requires integration of horticulture, economics, engineering, information technology, and social science.
Our specific goals are to develop:
To determine whether we achieve these goals, impact assessment will be an ongoing effort throughout the project.
Our efforts are divided by subject area, but integration of these different efforts will be paramount.
CROP GROWTH AND YIELD can be increased by optimizing 1) light spectrum, 2) light intensity and 3) light capture.
CROP QUALITY AND VALUE can be increased by altering light spectrum, intensity, photoperiod, and timing of light delivery.
Quantitative information on the costs and benefits of lighting will allow growers to make better decisions. We will develop Decision Support Systems to help growers make decisions applicable to their specific conditions. This will be a stepwise process that will answer the following questions:
Carbon footprint, life cycle assessment and economic cost analysis can be used to quantify the environmental and social impact of greenhouse and plant factory production. Quantitative data on the environmental impact of lighting technologies and production practices in greenhouses and plant factories will be used to develop actionable information to determine the pros and cons of different crop production systems.
Optimizing lighting strategies using models that consider plant physiological responses, crop value, real-time electricity pricing, and sunlight. We will integrate horticulture, engineering, and energy informatics to create models that account for the growth and value of the crop and adjust dynamically to fluctuations in electricity prices, current weather, and weather forecasts to assure that crop needs are met with the lowest possible cost.
Controllers to implement lighting strategies will facilitate adoption of more cost-effective lighting strategies. We will develop low-cost controllers (hardware) and open-source software to facilitate precise grower control of their lighting systems. These controllers can be stand-alone or integrated into existing control systems. The goal is to accelerate the profitable adoption of new lighting technologies and approaches.
Canopy sensors to track growth and light use efficiency can be used to track crop growth and physiology. Canopy imaging will be performed using cameras with an overhead view of the crop production area. We anticipate that our imaging approaches can track crop growth and determine how efficiently crops use the provided light.
Impact monitoring and evaluation will be used throughout the duration of the project to assess our progress and quantify the impact our work has on the controlled environment industry. We ask for your help with this. There are parts of this website where you may be asked to provide feedback. Please help us help you by telling us what you think!