Raising the Roof to Light Up the Future


North Yorkshire Applied Research provider Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) has today confirmed it is to raise the roof on one of its glasshouses to create a new, state of the art research facility to examine the effects of different LED lights on long season crops such as tomato.

Already leading the way with its innovative closed multi-tier LED4CROPS facility as a route to closed environment or urban farming, the new glasshouse facility will use both top and inter-light LEDS in combination with high pressure sodium lighting together with specially treated diffuse glass.

Graham Ward OBE, STC Chief Executive commented on the new development: “STC exists to serve the growers of the UK. This is an excellent example of where we have brought together a group to fund a new facility, not just for the current piece of work, but one that presents many exciting opportunities for growers, retailers and consumers in the future.”

The development at STC has been made possible through support from the industry but especially Norfolk grower Cornerways Nursery and the British Tomato Growers Association (TGA). In addition to the installation itself, CambridgeHok and Philips will also be working closely with STC on the growing strategy for the crop to maximise production and fruit quality and their plant specialists will visit the trial regularly to provide support to the project. This continues the arrangement established with LED4CROPS over the last two to three years. Udo van Slooten, Director Philips Horticulture LED Solutions said: “Philips supports this initiative as we aim to support growers in the UK with a light solution that brings them the best business results under local conditions.

Enza-Zaden is providing the tomato seed for the project, GRODAN is providing the stone wool substrate, Havecon bv the diffuse glass and Green Meteor the gutters & irrigation. Other suppliers are also making ‘in-kind’ contributions to help make the project a great success.

As innovative growers start to adopt LED lighting technology, the new facility at STC will provide valuable information comparing the effects of 4 four different light regimes in the crop. Treatments will include traditional sodium lighting, LED lights both within and above the crop and diffuse glass in one compartment of the glasshouse. This specially treated glass scatters light to potentially provide better growing conditions.

STC Science Director, Dr Martin McPherson said: “As the world’s population grows (forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050) there will be more mouths to feed and crop production systems will have to become more efficient, especially as climate disruption is predicted to also have an impact. For a variety of reasons, we cannot necessarily continue to rely on food imports and the emphasis will need to be on increasing local production.

“LED technology, such as that provided by Philips here, affords the horticulture industry the opportunity to do this. By taking the lead on this project, we have committed to our objective of becoming a centre of excellence and innovation in applied R&D for horticulture and to help UK growers address their current and future production challenges.

The work to lift the glasshouse and install the Philips LED lights is being undertaken by Yorkshire based CambridgeHok, whilst seed for the crop of cv. Sunstream vine tomatoes is being propagated by Plant Raisers Ltd at Howden, East Yorkshire, who expect to deliver the plants in early October.

The current trial is planned to run through until next summer, after which, there may be more work on tomatoes, or other high wire crops such as peppers.

There is so much we still need to understand about the effect of light on crop plants” added Dr Phillip Davis, STC Photobiologist. “Evidence already suggests different wavelengths may help enhance the flavour and nutritional value of crops. This development is really exciting as it further enhances facilities and skills at STC for the longer-term benefit of the UK horticultural industry.

Nigel Bartle, chair of the British Tomato Growers Association said the announcement of the facility was perfectly timed coming just days before the annual British Tomato Conference: “This year’s conference is entitled ‘An Invitation to Innovation’ and what better example could we have of British Growers commitment to doing so than this development at STC.”

Photos: LED lights in use in Holland. Photos courtesy of Marjan Welvaarts, Philips