Cannabis Lighting Research Reveals Cultivation Practices Are Improving

Cannabis Lighting Research Reveals Cultivation Practices Are Improving

More growers are using sophisticated technologies to measure light, but some are still not tracking essential growing metrics. Industry experts weigh in on key findings from the research.

December 28, 2020

For the past five years, Cannabis Business Times has published research to determine how growers are using lighting in their indoor and greenhouse facilities. With five years of data, the 2020 State of the Lighting Market Report, made possible with support from Fluence by OSRAM, revealed interesting insights about the cannabis cultivation market, specifically which lighting types growers are using for different stages of growth, which cultivation metrics they’re tracking and more.

One noteworthy finding from the research, conducted by third-party firm Readex Research, was that cultivators are increasingly using LED lighting in all stages of plant growth. From 2016 to 2020, LED usage increased by 42 percentage points in propagation, 41 percentage points in veg, and 37 percentage points in flowering, which represented the strongest growth when compared with other lighting types.

James Eaves professor at Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, said this struck him when he was reading the 2020 State of the Lighting Market Report.

“From my own interaction with growers, I see people adopting LEDs, but it’s still a lot of HPS, which especially in flower, is still strongly embraced by growers,” Eaves said. “I love LEDs. I think if they are high enough intensity that LEDs are a good replacement for HPS.” More than half (52%) of participants in CBT's 2020 lighting research said they use LEDs in the flowering stage, and 40% said they use HPS in that growth stage. 

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Eaves said one of the most common applications for LEDs is in the vegetative stage, as LEDs don’t produce as much heat as traditional grow lights, giving cultivators the option to grow vertically. And there are large subsidies available in many U.S. states and Canadian provinces for those who use LED technology, which has been embraced by energy companies as a more efficient option for indoor agriculture.

Jeremy Shechter, director of cultivation at Ohio-based Buckeye Relief, said he is “encouraged by how many facilities are starting to trend more and more to LEDs.”

“When I got in the industry, most people were still saying you cannot flower adequately under LEDs, and I am glad to see so many people proving otherwise,” Shechter said. 

Shechter said one area of the report that surprised him is factors study participants said they prioritized when selecting lighting, as the results showed “light intensity,” “light spectrum,” “product warranty,” “scientific research for product development” and “energy efficiency” ranked higher than other considerations.

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“I find it interesting that people are paying closer attention to spectrum over cost or energy efficiency. It seems that the jury is still out for the most part on the most optimized spectrum for flower production,” he said. “It seems clear that there is a good deal more research that needs to be done before cultivators (that operate large-scale production facilities) should make that their sole focus since there is not enough information to make a perfect decision on that.”

When reviewing the report, Shechter said what concerned him was the percentage of cultivators who said they tracked key metrics like ambient room temperature (85%) and relative humidity (72%).

“Both of those need to be 100%, at least when dealing with controlled environment agriculture,” he said. “There is no excuse not to, especially with the stats showing how many people are struggling to control their environments in the first place.”

However, he was encouraged that more people are using Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) meters to check and validate their lighting. In CBT’s 2020 State of the Cannabis Lighting Market Report, 72% of cultivators said they use a light meter, compared with 55% in the 2016 report. 42% of participants said they use a PAR meter specifically, while 22% said they measure light using a photometer/lux meter.

Eaves echoed this sentiment and said he’s happy to see more growers investing in light meters.

“Even just three or four years ago, you’d walk into a $6 million facility and the people wouldn’t have spent money on a light meter,” he said. “So you see more of that, they are being more careful about monitoring light intensity at different stages of plant development.

“They are becoming more sophisticated about lighting in general, and that’s encouraging.”