A Belgian strawberry grower, Welroy Fruit, has been able to produce the Sonata strawberry variety earlier than many competitors, due in part to the use of LED lighting.
With the year barely a month old, the relatively cold temperatures and short days mean summer still feels a long way off. But what if you could have an early taste of summer? Well, now perhaps you can with Welroy Fruit’s innovative growing technique! While many growers still favour high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps, or possibly a hybrid system with LED interlighting, Welroy Fruit has opted for a full LED setup, driven largely by economics.
HPS lighting has been around a long while now and has established itself as the industry standard, yet to be displaced by LED technology, due to the difference in initial investment required. Despite good, ongoing savings in terms of electricity consumption with LEDs, this is not usually sufficient to offset the high capital cost. However, in the case of Welroy Fruit, the additional cost of the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system that would have been required for HPS lamps seems to have been the deciding factor. The result of installing a full LED setup is not only financial; the crop also tastes sweeter than if grown under HPS lamps. This is likely to be a direct result of the spectrum of light provided by LEDs, which can usually be ‘tuned’ to a crop’s needs.
For the meantime, HPS is likely to remain the go-to choice for many growers and is probably the sensible option for retrofit projects. For new-builds, however, LEDs look set to become a more viable option, especially if the anecdotal evidence for improved crop quality can be demonstrated. While the cost and savings of a given setup are always considered, the financial benefit of improved quality and an earlier-to-market crop are often overlooked. If more growers follow suit, it could soon be summer all year round!