Lethbridge College will receive more than $350,000 for a greenhouse lighting research project, which will be the first major project in the college’s new 10,000 square foot on-campus research greenhouse – The Centre for Sustainable Food Production.
The lighting project is one of 39 research projects across Canada selected to receive a share of $11.49 million in funding through the Agriculture Funding Consortium (AFC). The AFC represents 18 agricultural organizations that raise funds to support sustainability, diversification and growth for the agri-food industry in Western Canada.
Megan Shapka, Director, Applied Research Operations with the Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Lethbridge College, says she is pleased to see the greenhouse lighting research project recognized with a grant of $353,598 for the three-year industry-driven study that will start this fall.
“We designed this facility to test technologies and growing techniques, and we focus on pre-commercial validation for commercial applications because producers rely on evidence-based research to de-risk their business decisions,” Shapka says. “Adopting new lighting technology can be expensive, and producers want to ensure strong return on investment (ROI) for any product they install.”
Access to adequate light is a critical factor in greenhouse crop productivity. An abundance of natural sunlight in southern Alberta makes for excellent growing conditions, but growing in the region’s long, dark winters can pose challenges, so supplemental lights are often necessary to stay competitive year-round. Only a small portion of commercial greenhouse operators in North America use supplemental lighting because of the prohibitive costs involved. The successful outcome of this project will remove the adoption roadblocks by the industry and provide more efficient and cost-effective LED lighting.
The college project will investigate the performance of conventional High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, horticultural LEDs, and common industrial lights, such as High Bay LEDs. Through this project, researchers hope to identify best practices for supplemental lighting for growing cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers – three of the most popular greenhouse-grown crops in Canada.
Dr. Nick Savidov, senior research scientist, says the college’s newly built greenhouse facility is unique among other research greenhouses in the country, as it exactly mimics the conditions of a typical commercial facility. That means the much-needed results from this research project can be directly transferable to the industry and will enable producers to quantify the costs and benefits of supplemental lighting in their operations.
“With this information, industry can decide how to evolve their business with more efficiency and with less risk,” says Savidov. “The project will be holistic in its approach, by measuring not just crop productivity and financial benefit, but also power consumption, setup and maintenance costs for different lighting options. This will provide industry with a full ROI analysis that is appropriate to Canadian conditions.”
While the project will focus on measuring yield, quality and ROI, it will also measure the unique characteristic of plant stress, using a sophisticated crop electrophysiology system. This technology will allow the growers to detect even minor plant stress at earlier stages before they lose yield, playing a more proactive role in eliminating plant stress.
The Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE) at Lethbridge College recently ranked 16th in the annual Research Infosource ranking of Canada’s top 50 research colleges. CARIE received more than $7 million in research funding in 2021. CARIE is a catalyst for economic growth, sustainability and social development in southern Alberta through its work in agriculture, irrigation, aquaculture, extended reality technology and public safety.