LED Lighting Making Strides in Cannabis Growing
While lots of old-school marijuana growers have been using HPS lights, many corporations and new growers are turning to an ever-better crop of LED grow lights for successfully cultivating cannabis.
When the initial “Let There Be Light” command was issued, it was quickly noted that most things grew better in light than in darkness, a concept that evolved over the years into today’s use of light emitting diodes (LEDs) in propagation and vegetation.
Not only use, but rapidly expanding use as in the fastest growth of any other type of lighting technology for plants, recording double-digit expansion from 2016-2019.
“Cultivators around the world are adopting LED lighting systems in nearly every state of plant growth, either in retrofitting or initial facility design,” says David Cohen, CEO of Fluence, sponsor of the recently released annual State of the Cannabis Lighting Market report, which cites LED lighting is the preferred method among cultivars in North America. “Early adopters rid the industry of lingering suspicions that LEDs played a major role in cannabinoid and terpene production and yield.”
Not only does LED lighting do its job more efficiently, the price to do so is dropping. “Prices for the diode itself have come down dramatically (so) that fixture costs are a return-on-investment that’s digestible for the customer,” Cohen says.
The second thing that’s happened in recent years is the reliability of the fixtures has improved dramatically. “A lot of folks tried to enter this space with quickly designed LED fixtures and the horticulture lighting industry in general saw a lot of really bad products. That’s changed with better players making quality products at prices buyers can rationalize versus benefit accrued.”
The Austin, Texas-based company has started promoting the concept of broad-spectrum white light after a series of multiyear global studies revealed that LED lighting performed better than older HPS red-blue technology, especially for marijuana.
“Our studies showed cannabis plants prefer broad-spectrum with high PPFD.”
“Our studies showed cannabis plants prefer broad-spectrum with high PPFD,” Cohen says. “So much so that when you match white light with certain cannabis cultivars, you achieve higher yields, improved morphology and an increase in cannabinoid compounds . We’ve found our customers can probably get one and a half cycles per year (more) out of LED lighting than they can out of old technology.”
Cohen calls the improvement almost unbelievable, save for the fact that Fluence has increased its revenue by more than 500 percent since 2017 while installing fixtures across more than 3.4 million square feet of cannabis canopy. That’s today’s status and, as rosy as that is, more good things are expected.
“We’re seeing fantastic growth in the industry and are still feeling a lot of tailwind with what we have on the books for 2022. As licensing and laws change around the world, global opportunities are wide open — the sky’s the limit for us right now.
“As a company, a couple of years ago, we really started to promote the concept of broad spectrum falling under the McCree curve. If you start with propagation and go right through to flowering and keep it under an LED light, the expression is improved and the biomass of the plant distribution is also quite a bit higher.”
Cohen says smart growers starting from scratch are open to understanding cost differential and their return on investment, and are opting for LED installations over their legacy counterparts. This year’s State of the Cannabis Lighting Market report found that LED adoption among cannabis cultivators has increased more than 45 percent since 2016. “Growers who started a couple of years ago either did so with HPS because they couldn’t afford better or didn’t understand LED technology. Now they are prime candidates for a retrofit market that should be really huge.”
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While current production keeps its more than 200 employees busy, R&D efforts at Fluence may keep them even busier. “We have several research projects going on worldwide,” admits Cohen. “We can’t grow cannabis inside our Texas facility because of current laws, but we’ve partnered with a Texas license holder for experiments as well as those already underway in Canada at Griffith University, and in Australia and the Netherlands. What we’re trying to do is understand what light strategies will achieve the best results for what our customers want.”
Cohen says his entire science team of PhDs and horticultural scientists is hard at work globally. “The industry is so far behind in science here because of laws of decades past, so we expand our options to include not just the North American market we’re currently servicing, but into Europe and Asia as well. As incredible as our growth rate is, there’s still plenty of untapped demand, so much of my focus is scaling this business globally to take care of everybody’s needs.
“If you’re looking at things like terpene expression, secondary metabolite or, biomass cycle time, lighting can give growers a strategy so they can maximize THC content in the plant. I’m thinking you’re going to see quite a bit from us because we have some serious legs and a lot of tailwind behind us.”
“Aspirationally,” Cohen says, “what I’d really love is to have a customer walk into a dispensary looking for cannabis with a specific cannabinoid and terpene profile for a specific affliction and be able to find it. And the grower would know the way to achieve that specific result would be by cultivating under our lights, leveraging a lighting strategy recommended by our best-in-class researchers, leaning on the expertise of our experienced horticulture services team. So we’re starting with that kind of vision in mind and working backwards to see how to achieve that goal.”