Tomato growers reap benefits of horticultural LEDs

Two of Britain's biggest tomato growers are now benefiting from a transition to horticultural LED lighting, which is increasing yields and significantly reducing energy usage for both businesses.

APS Salads and supermarket tomato supplier Flavour Fresh Solfresh Group have completed their first 12 and 10-month growing cycles respectively, using 100% LEDs supplied by Philips Lighting. 

Cheshire-based APS Salads, which is the largest supplier of UK tomatoes for Tesco, saw its Wight Salads site on the Isle of Wight move away from hybrid lighting – which combined LED and conventional high pressure sodium (HPS) and delivered less consistent results – to 100% horticultural LED lighting with Philips ‘GreenPower’ toplights and a double row of interlighting.

“With the hybrid HPS/LED system, we couldn’t achieve consistent crops at an affordable cost, and we were also producing too much heat via HPS lighting in the winter,” explained Phil Pearson, group development director at APS Salads and chair of the British Tomato Growers’ Technical Committee.

“After 12 months with 100% LEDs, we are growing consistent, quality tomatoes right through the winter that taste as good as mid-summer ones. “Furthermore, we are using two-thirds less power compared to when we were running HPS-lit greenhouses. Plus, we can better control the crop balance because we have total control over the heating and lighting as well as a strong return on investment.

“The new, more sustainable system will have paid for itself within three years.”

‘The greatest innovation’

Meanwhile, Lancashire-based Flavour Fresh Solfresh Group , which supplies a number of supermarkets with Sweet Rosso, Piccolo, Santini and Tomkin varieties of tomatoes, implemented 100% LEDs with two lines of horticultural LED interlighting and toplighting within a 0.5-hectare area of its greenhouse.

Before moving to LEDs, Flavour Fresh used natural light to grow its tomato crops, which meant that no tomatoes could be harvested during the winter months. Now, the firm is able to grow tomatoes all year round, which will increase yields by around 30%.

Flavour Fresh production manager Andy Roe has hailed the dawning of the LED as “without doubt the greatest innovation in horticulture since the invention of the tractor”.

“The total LED installation gives 100% control to us as a grower,” Roe said. “The lighting and heating work hand-in-hand to reduce the need for ventilation and, in turn, this reduces the total energy requirement by up to 35% which is a win-win situation for the environment.”

Commenting on the two LED fit-outs, Philips Lighting’s business leader for horticulture Udo van Slooten said: “APS Salads and Flavour Fresh are a testament to how 100% LED light can bring reliability of yield and taste all year round in growing fruit and vegetables.This removes the black cloud of unpredictable weather throughout the seasons that can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line of a grower’s business.”

With the agricultural and livestock industry currently the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter after the energy sector, LED lighting could prove a crucial tool to reduce emissions. Earlier this year, edie reported on Growing Underground, a innovative, LED-lit hydroponic herb garden beneath the streets of Clapham which could provide an agricultural model for Britain to save valuable resources and boost food security.

Luke Nicholls & Alex Baldwin

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