Low-energy tomato cultivation research explores impact of reduced heat input

As low-energy cultivation becomes the norm, altered conditions demand new strategies.

by CEA inSight
Greenhouse with tomatoes

A coalition of controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) industry suppliers has announced a continuation of trials underway at research institution Botany, the Netherlands. The trials focus on refining low-energy CEA tomato cultivation strategies, with advancing sustainable agriculture as the goal. Led by the lighting and growing media expertise of Signify and Grodan, the group includes BASF Vegetable Seeds, Ridder, Normec Groen Agro-Control and Wireless Value.

Research expectations and collaborations

Launched in September 2023, the Botany trials will explore principles of low-energy growing under fully dimmable Philips LED lights. This year’s strategy is built on knowledge gained from last year’s successful tomato trial and other research conducted by Signify.

Current research focuses on plant transpiration and nutrient uptake in a 260 m2 department fitted with active air dehumidification. By modeling the expected crop development and performance, the companies expect to reduce radiant heat input up to 40% by dimming the lights based on crop needs, energy prices and outside light conditions.

“Collaborating with the right partner can take research to new heights, and we at Signify are excited to collaborate in this journey with Grodan. After conducting successful trials over the lighting season 2022, in which we focused on light scheduling and spectra, we realized more needed to be done to define how an LED winter crop could be grown in 5 years from now. This trial will serve as a showcase for the Benelux market.” said Erik Stappers, Plant Specialist Vegetables & Fruit at Signify.

“The combination of two irrigation treatments and the application of active dehumidification will give lots of information on how plants perform and can be steered in these conditions. We know that this way is not common practice yet, but we see a clear need for more proof points and knowledge at our customers on how to reduce the heat input in LED crops. Our goal is to save 40% on heat input compared to current practice.”

The group will work together to organize knowledge transfer events and share its joint knowledge with growers and other stakeholders in other ways throughout the cultivation trials. The tomato variety chosen for the trial in 2023 is the TOBRFV-resistant cherry-on-the-vine cv Vitalion from BASF Vegetable Seeds. Dimmable Philips GreenPower LED toplighting compact will be controlled by Ridder climate computers. Nutrient and uptake analysis will be undertaken by Normec Groen Agro Control. Sensors from Wireless Value will be used to understand and determine the impact on plant growth. Finally, Grodan slabs and GroSens sensors will collect data to be used to optimize the irrigation strategy.

Reassessing cultivation strategies

“Grodan understands that low-energy growing is not a trend but is now the norm, and new growing solutions are required to ensure we continue to produce high yields of high-quality fruit. We have lower pipe temperatures, less energy input and, with the LED lights, 40% less radiant heat. All this adds up to lower transpiration levels in the crop, especially in the winter months, said Andrew Lee, Knowledge Manager at Grodan.

Lee notes that all aspects of root zone monitoring and management strategies must be reassessed under low-energy cultivation — not just irrigation start and stop times and the electrical conductivity of the irrigation water, but also the balance of the different nutrient elements. “We are confident these new trials will not only highlight the importance of root zone management in low-energy growing, but will also lead to new ways to improve cultivation practices which ultimately improve our customers’ bottom line to increase efficiency and profitability,” Lee said.

Botany Managing Director Maarten Vliex added, “At Botany BV, we understand the importance of ground-breaking research. We are excited to host trials which support innovative ways of thinking such as those being showcased by Grodan and Signify. The findings of these trials will be backed by solid data sets coming from our state-of-the-art facility which should provide additional piece of mind to growers giving them confidence of high yields with lower energy inputs.”

Image courtesy of Grodan.

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