Ag at Large: Leafy greens become enlightened under roof

Courtesy of auntmasako/

Some growers of leafy green vegetables are benefitting from adjustable light sources that influence growth characteristics under greenhouse conditions. Others depend on reliable California conditions.

It’s another example of technology advancing into traditional agricultural settings.  In this case, the complicated element is little more than LED lighting with sophisticated control units, plants rooted in water as opposed to soil, and growing indoors instead of in the sunshine with a lot of controlled feeding and care.     

The primary proponent of this growth-enhancing technique is a California concern called LumiGrow, Inc., located in the creatively rich East Bay community of Emeryville, a community neighbor to University of California.  Another neighbor is the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s laboratory in Albany.

However, the most dramatic showcase of LumiGrow’s technology at work is a three-acre covered production facility in Wisconsin.  Leafy greens, some other vegetables, and even some flower varieties are being produced there without sunshine or soil.  In a huge greenhouse the plants are rooted in circulating water which carries the prescribed nutrients and maintains the ideal temperature.

The spectral lighting inside the huge greenhouse can be controlled from an off-site computer or cell phone.  Elements of the lighting include its color, duration, wave, and spectral mix, all factors that influence such plant morphology as root development, nodal spacing, biochemical profiles and taste.  Elements under rigid control include temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and the amount and quality of water the plants receive.        

Pest and disease enemies of the protected plants are minimized by the controlled indoor environment, and harvest is enhanced because the plants are produced in waist-high platforms friendly to workers. Plant roots dangling in water instead of being tightly bound by soil simplify the harvesting process.

Because of the light combinations in the greenhouse and the translucent nature of the building, the facility casts a distinctive glow at night that can be seen for miles across the Wisconsin plain.

The consistent quality and condition of the items produced in the Wisconsin setting have given them enthusiastic access to supermarkets and other outlets in the area.  Those labeled as organic or otherwise specially produced demand higher prices from customers who appreciate them.  

Leafy greens growers in California, who produce more than 90 percent of the nation’s supply can expect competition from a huge spectral light-greenhouse facility under construction in Australia.  It will be the largest greenhouse installation in the southern hemisphere.

In the meantime, California growers of all the leafy vegetables continue their orthodox production methods with nature’s blessing in most of the state’s growing areas.  Production is robust in the Salinas area and neighboring districts in Monterey County.  Coastal areas all the way to San Diego County are heavy producers, and winter production is huge in the Coachella  and Imperial valleys.

The state’s growers contribute to a marketing order that allows them to support an administrative structure that maintains quality standards for all greens that are marketed.  The order also provides funds for promotion of the crop and circulation of information about production data.

In general, California’s vigorous leafy greens production and marketing system is well in hand, and now, with assistance and enhancement from the technology spectrum, you might say is further enlightened.