Que. hothouse tomato firm to test LED lighting

A major Quebec hothouse tomato producer will work with McGill University and electrical giant GE on trials of LED lighting aimed at boosting crop yield and cutting energy use.

Les Serres du St-Laurent, which grows Savoura-brand tomatoes under artificial light year-round at a number of greenhouses in the province, will install the LED lighting in its facilities in the hopes of “keeping costs at an acceptable level and through more efficient use of energy,” CEO Marie Gosselin said in a federal government release last week.

GE’s Canadian commercial LED lighting wing, GE Lighting Solutions Canada Co., will get nearly $1.3 million from the federal Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP) initiative toward the research project, the government said.

GE said last week it had selected Mark Lefsrud of McGill’s department of bioresource engineering to conduct research on plant-specific photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) curves, the specific light wavelength that plants need for optimum growth.

That research, the company said in a separate release, “plays a key role in the advancement of this significant new lighting option for the horticultural industry.”

The LED lighting to be tested is more energy-efficient than the high-intensity discharge light sources typically used in such applications, so growers will be able to reduce energy consumption and operating costs, the government said.

“Past studies have also shown that plants react better to certain wavelengths, and this new LED system is expected to increase crop quality and yield,” Quebec MP Jean-Pierre Blackburn, the federal minister of state for agriculture, said in the government’s release.

Portneuf-based Serres du St-Laurent, having the technical growing expertise with tomatoes under artificial light, is to provide “leadership, expertise and technical support for planning the experiments,” GE said.

The application of LED technology being tested in these trials is expected to “significantly enhance commercial greenhouse operations, not just in Canada, but around the world,” GE Canada CEO Elyse Allan said.

From McGill’s perspective, “this is the kind of university-industry partnership we at McGill are trying to encourage,” Rose Goldstein, the university’s vice-principal for research and international relations, said in GE’s release.

“It’s positive for a major Quebec-based company on a number of fronts, including job creation, it’s of benefit to the environment in terms of reduced energy use and it will boost Canada’s competitiveness in world markets.”

The federal DIAP initiative requires all activities in funded projects to be completed by the end of March 2013. The initiative, launched in May 2009, has already allocated its entire budget to various research and development projects.

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