Study Begins on LED Lights for Crop Growth

Purdue University is partnering with universities to research and improve the effects of LED lighting in greenhouses.

by Dani Yokhna
Courtesy Stock.XCHNG
Reachers at Purdue University are study how LED lights can make crop production in greenhouses more efficient.

In the greenhouses of Purdue University, researchers are undergoing a study to improve and evaluate the effects of LED lighting on greenhouse crop production. The study is made possible by a $4.88 million grant from the USDA. 

Purdue researchers will collaborate with Rutgers University, the University of Arizona, Michigan State University and Orbital Technologies Corp. on the four-year project. The goal is to increase greenhouse yields and decrease producers’ energy costs.

“The high-intensity discharge lamps used today are inefficient. When you have acres and acres of greenhouses with these lamps in them, it really adds up,” says Cary Mitchell, a professor of horticulture and project director for the grant. “With LED lighting, we should be able to do as well or better with much less energy.”

Mitchell’s work will include testing LED lighting on high-wire tomatoes. High-wire tomatoes can grow taller than 20 feet, and traditional overhead lighting doesn’t reach the lower parts of many plants. Mitchell believes that using LED lights on the sides of plants will increase photosynthesis and flowering, improving yield.

Roberto Lopez, an assistant professor of horticulture, will work with about 20 species of bedding plants to test LED lighting’s ability to lower the cost of establishing new plants from cuttings and seeds. Low winter light means growers currently have to use more expensive overhead lighting to establish new plants.

Chieri Kubota at the University of Arizona will test the best wavelengths and colors for LED lighting to establish vegetable transplants, and Erik Runkle at Michigan State will test flower initiation of ornamental crops with different colors of LEDs.

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The researchers are partnering with Robert Morrow and C. Michael Bourget of Orbital Technologies Corp. of Madison, Wis., which will build the LED lights.

Costs and benefits associated with LED lighting will be evaluated throughout the project, and best practices and standards for testing commercial LED lighting will be developed. Later phases of the research will include evaluating LED lighting in commercial settings and developing improved LED lights that match the needs determined from those tests.

USDA officials, including Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, toured greenhouses with prototype LED lights like the ones that will be used in the research.

“The specialty-crop industry plays an enormously important part in American agriculture and is valued at approximately $50 billion every year,” Merrigan says. “These projects will be key to providing specialty crop producers with the information and tools they need to successfully grow, process, and market safe and high-quality products.”

The grant funds are made possible through a USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative award of $2.44 million from the USDA combined with an equal amount of in-kind contributions of equipment and services from industry partners.

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