Evolving Applications for Grow LEDs in Agriculture

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Agriculture and humanity have evolved hand in stalk -- and leaps in lighting technology continue to change the game.

For countless generations, our ancestors were at the mercy of the weather, climate, and weather incidents such as storms, tornados, and hurricanes. Our evolving accomplishments with cultivation combined with our innate ability to forge weapons and hunt is probably the primary reason we’re still around today.

Our planet is in distress as countless species are being lost. And this is not just happening in the animal kingdom. Plants and trees are in distress as well. Many flora, such as giant sequoia trees, are seeding early knowing that they are slowly dying.

Our food plants too are subject to a dying world and GMO products are a mixed bag. They can provide the raw quantity of food, but many worry about the health effects. While polls show 90 percent of consumers want food labeling to indicate GMOs, many corporations and elected officials have pushed back, even going so far as to relieve companies who modify genes from legal liabilities if they hurt people.

But, as things around us change, this time we have a measure of control. We, unlike our ancestors, can create sealed environments that allow cultivation on a scale that would be unimaginable to our primitive selves. And, this may be a necessity going forward.

While electric lights changed the world, they were not able to compete with the sun for plant cultivation. They were costly, large, put out heat, and used a lot of electricity. Modern-day LED technology,  however, has advanced to the point where more size, energy, and cost-effective solutions allow sealed environments to quickly and reliably grow plants within a closed environment. High-brightness LEDs have efficient divergence control and use less current. Manufacturers like Cree, OSRAM SYLVANIA, and more are leading the charge.

This is important for a variant of reasons. First, it allows more people to grow more plants—for food, medicine, spices, and more. They can coexist inside living space, or be automated using efficient watering systems and soil control. But perhaps most importantly, they will not need pesticides, as inside environments are much easier to control and limit from intruding insects and fungi.

And, this is an area of concern to many consumers, as the increased use of “probably carcinogenic” toxic pesticides coupled with GMO organisms that have been created to resist the pesticides make for a not-so-appetizing recipe. Plants still absorb pesticides, which means—when we consume them—we do too. While there is still much research to be done, the massive increase in afflictions, autism, allergies, asthma, cancers, and so on, may be linkable to the toxins we ingest.

The ability for each of us (or communities) to create our own clean, heirloom, non-sterile seeds may be a way out of this conundrum. What is especially nice is that the lower energy used by LEDs can allow independent solar systems to supply most of the energy (so the sun isn’t quite off the hook completely). Another key benefit is that modern wide spectral emissions from LEDs now allow us to tailor the grow lights to specific species.

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