LEDs improve tomato production

First year of LEDs4Crops research facility 'promising' but 'we have only scratched the surface'

LEDs can influence tomato production in a range of ways as well as saving money on energy, Stockbridge Technology Centre's (STC) Dr Phillip Davis told the British Tomato Growers Association conference (26 September).

These include altering the levels of pigments, which often have antioxidant properties, and vitamins in the fruit improving flavour, controlling pest and diseases and increasing shelf life.

"Plants respond to a wider range of the light spectrum than the human eye can see, and not just for photosynthesis," said the research fellow. "You can design the plant by using different light recipes."

The first year of STC's LEDs4Crops research facility had been "promising", he added, but "we have only scratched the surface".

Phillips horticultural lighting specialist Esther Hogeveen-van Echtelt said: "Most people think it's about saving money on energy. But the main thing is about improvements to the crop."

She added: "Every situation is different and you have to adapt your recipe to it. You might use different recipes for top and inter lighting, for example. It's no good us just selling you the lamps - if you're not using them to their full potential, you won't make back your investment. But we are still learning."

UK growers Wight Salads, APS and Melrow are trialling tomato growing with LEDs, said Hogeveen-van Echtelt. But she added: "We want to see it on a bigger scale."

Production method - Funding for research

"Controlled-environment production" is one area for which the Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP) submitted an expression of interest to the Government's £160m Agri-Tech Strategy, its chairman Mary Bosley told the conference.

"Government is looking for industry to take the lead and HIP is in the middle of this," she said.

HIP was launched earlier this year with the backing of several industry bodies to exploit opportunities for research and development funding.

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