The UK farming industry has been under pressure for decades. With supermarket competition constantly keeping prices low, farmers rely heavily on subsidies to make ends meet. Increasingly, they are turning to technology to help them improve yields, reduce costs and find new market opportunities. One technology that is providing some surprising achievements is LED lighting. Here, we look at how LEDs are transforming the farming industry.
Keeping costs down
The price war between supermarkets keeps the cost of UK food artificially low. Those at the sharp end of the deal are farmers who often end up having to sell their products for less than it costs to produce them. To stay afloat, many rely heavily on subsidies; however, following Brexit, these are changing and will be phased out over the next few years, being replaced by a new scheme that focuses much more on landowners using their land to promote and protect the environment.
Amid such volatility, producers need to make their farms run as efficiently as possible. One way in which they are doing this is to replace existing fluorescent and halogen lighting with LEDs. Those with large indoor spaces for keeping livestock or growing plants and vegetables could see their lighting bills shrink by as much as 80% following conversion to LEDs. As they turn most of their energy into light rather than heat, LEDs use 80% less energy and produce 80% less CO2 at the same time.
How LEDs boost milk production
With milk being one of the main products to be sold at a loss, finding ways to improve production can help farmers address the shortfall. Recent research indicates that cows produce most milk when they have 16 to 18 hours of light per day at brightness levels of at least 160 to 200 lux, followed by six hours of dimmer light. This exposure to light is thought to increase the cows’ levels of the hormone prolactin that is responsible for producing milk. Compared with cows that only get 13 hours light per day, those that have 16 to 18 hours can produce up to two litres of milk more.
To achieve these higher yields, sheds need to be uniformly and consistently lit at 160 to 200 lux for the brighter periods and then lit at around 50 lux during the darker hours. Putting this in place would mean a significant increase in the amount of energy used by farms; however, by installing LEDs this wouldn’t be the case. Indeed, the cost would be less than lighting the shed for 13 hours using fluorescent lights.
The other advantage of using LEDs is that they can be controlled. This way, the timings can be accurate and, by using sensors, lux levels can be maintained. Even better, they can work intelligently to change brightness depending on how much natural daylight is available, ensuring consistency and keeping costs to a minimum.
Improving quality and yield of plants
The UK’s climate means that plant growers often use indoor cultivation to speed up production and this means a reliance on artificial lighting, such as fluorescent and metal-halide bulbs. There are, however, various issues with using these kinds of lighting, they are expensive to run, inefficient and don’t always provide the right spectrum of light or the right intensity that individual crops need to thrive.
Replacing fluorescent and metal-halide lights with LEDs can provide a range of benefits for plants grown in controlled environments. Aside from an 80% decrease in lighting energy consumption, one recent study showed that wheat grown under LEDs had a higher yield and was of better quality than when grown under fluorescent lights. The LEDs’ ability to provide higher light intensities increased photosynthesis, tiller count, biomass and yield. Additional benefits came from the LEDs’ ability to modify their colour output and temperature. This was helpful as different parts of the spectrum affected the plants in different ways during the various stages of cultivation resulting in improved starch and protein content. It is likely that many other crops can also achieve similar benefits,
Large internal spaces for the housing of livestock or mass production of plants require a considerable number of bulbs. Replacing these can be time-consuming, especially if they are positioned high off the ground. LEDs are useful here because they have a much longer lifespan than other types of bulbs, lasting on average around 50,000 hours. This longevity cuts the frequency at which bulbs need to be changed and the cost of replacing them. Importantly, too, as LEDs are much cooler than other forms of lighting, the potential for fire is also significantly reduced.
LEDs can play an important role in the UK farming industry. Not only can they help farms cut the costs of lighting and reduce their carbon footprint; they can also help improve the yield and quality of their produce, whether that be with milk or plants and vegetables.
If you are considering installing LED lighting on your farm, visit our Industrial and Commercial Lighting page.