iShence Agtech CTO & Co-founder Shelley Barak explains their latest indoor lighting innovation, Photonix, and how it is changing the indoor agriculture industry.
If we do not make drastic changes to today's agriculture methods, by 2050, food will run out.
One of the ways to increase productivity is to grow indoors. Some of the obvious benefits are faster growing and flowering, free of pesticides, streamlining the operations to grow any crop any time of the year, and utilizing modular structures close to the consumers.
Here at iShence AgTech recently launched a turnkey project we've been working on for several months, demonstrating how recycled infrastructure can be repurposed for indoor growing facilities with tremendous benefits. By using recycled shipping containers, we built an indoor facility for licensed medical cannabis. A custom Irrigation fertigation and climate controls system was tailored to our client's specific requirements, leveraging the capabilities of our cloud-connected controllers. We then used racks and rolling tables to maximize space and increase the yield per square foot. But the most critical element for an economically viable indoor growing operation is light. This was our first major live installation of our newest LED fixtures, named "Photonix."
When growing indoors, artificial light replaces the sunlight. It is a key factor both as the energy source (photosynthesis) and as a signaling source to promote flowering and other biological processes.
Photonix spectrum contains four separate channels. The main one is full-spectrum (white); the others are blue (460 NM), red (660 NM), and far-red (740 NM). We can control each channel independently by setting its intensity value to 0-100%. This gives photonix the unique benefit of adjusting both spectrum and intensity per crop and growth stage. As a result, it improves the farmer's ability to maximize yield and quality.
Mastering the exact light recipe (or "preset" as we manage it) took us a long time, over four years to be exact, and required various experiments with different types of crops (cannabis and vegetables alike). It takes some time for growers to adopt automation fully, so it is easier for them to manually select the desired light preset and gradually gain more confidence in the algorithm as the SOP is fine-tuned over several growing seasons.
Using an adjustable spectrum, we can control the plant height and morphology - a key factor when growing indoors and promote faster flowering. This means growing more yield per given space should generate more revenue and shorten the period required for the return on investment.
Another important factor affects plants' secondary metabolism products (flowers and fruits), such as chemical compounds and sugar content. It is in the grower's best interest to produce a stable product with the best possible chemical composition, translating to higher final product pricing and increased market demand.
Photonix design is specifically fitted for vertical farming indoors, providing an even light distribution and crop-specific settings (cannabis, tomatoes, chili peppers, and more). It uses the highest quality LED top bin diodes from CREE and drivers from Meanwell - both have industries highest standard for electrical efficacy. We use aluminum for passive cooling and high-quality materials. The entire assembly of iShence's products is in Israel.
As a standalone product, Photonix is performing great on its own. But to turn "great" into "exceptional," we integrate it into our holistic solution, which gives the grower complete visibility of all the different factors in the facility. When applying high-intensity light, growers must constantly adjust irrigation fertigation and climate control. That is where our machine learning algorithm kicks in - adjusting irrigation to deliver the precise amount of water and nutrients needed, operating fans, a/c, and other peripheral devices to stabilize the environment, and gathering a constant stream of data from various sensors (temperature, humidity, and CO2, etc.) to provide real-time monitoring.
With the increasing amount of data, it becomes impossible to monitor large operations without an automated alerting system. If any given threshold is crossed, rest assured that our platform will trigger an alert for any critical deviation - power outage, pipe blockage, pH electrode going out of calibration. All data points are logged, allowing users to review data retrospectively and improve the SOP over time.
We see the agricultural landscape going through a similar revolution as the industrial 4.0 revolution. Once the production line is mature enough, it is the next logical step to have big data and automation to help speed up the processes and increase productivity. This is yet another step in an ongoing process of hardware and software improvements designed to deliver more by using less.