While massive yields in smaller spaces can solve food security issues, indoor farming with the use of energy efficient LED system also boast of reduced energy usage3, making indoor farming a potential sustainable solution. Some indoor farms have showed significant power-savings4: with about 40% less power and up to 90% of water savings when compared with the same yield from traditional farms.
There is also less need for traditional labour5. The controlled environment means specific crops can be grown anytime. This contributes to increased local produce and fresher crops due to shorter transport time. Being indoors maximises the space used and it also eliminates the presence of pests, so no pesticides are required6. Carefully chosen lighting recipes lower chances of crops being rejected by retailers and consumers, thereby reducing food wastage and driving sustainability.
One challenge for indoor farmers when choosing a light is that the perfect one-plan-fits-all light recipe doesn’t exist. There has been a lot of hype about a certain pink-and-blue light which makes some plants really flourish. But when used on other plants, they may perform differently. For farmers who expect the same lighting results to apply across different plants, this may lead to underwhelming outcomes and has contributed to low uptake of indoor farming.
"This also makes it very hard for the lighting manufacturers as farming is not their core area of expertise – what they usually tend to do is to test and specify their products for a selected range of plants in a defined ambient condition,” says Marvin Böll, Project Manager, Lighting Expert at TÜV SÜD . “Changes to the ambient parameters or usage of different plants might not yield favourable results. What a grower can do with the provided equipment remains restricted to the plants and conditions defined by the manufacturer.” As of now, no standard indicates which light is appropriate for the selected crop. There are many developers looking for the “holy grail”, trialling different lights and setups, each looking to fulfil their own interests.
As players strive to develop the industry for a sustainable future, another challenge is to guarantee the safety and performance of the technology itself. The high degree in variation between indoor farming systems can make the selection of a fitting light fixture even more difficult. What difference does it make if a light source is used in a soil based setup or a hydroponic system? What light distribution do I need? In particular, the topic of workplace safety such as photo biological safety and protection against electrical shock are of importance due to the proximity of the lighting to the worker.
As indoor farming is gaining in relevance, TÜV SÜD is able to advise farmers and growers on the basics of grow lighting and review systems for their individual crops, as well as inform on the latest standards and regulations to help them to navigate the changing landscape, making sure the technology works for their specific needs.
According to literature, farmers will mostly go for the growth rate. But tests show that even if there is a faster growth rate, if plants look unusual or “unaesthetic”, sales will not be guaranteed. So, the retailers and the farmers themselves will have to have a stronger voice on their desired output.