Published on Monday, April 01, 2019
Beck’s greenhouses in Atlanta, Indiana, are a bit of a local landmark. On cloudy mornings, especially during a fog, the gleam can be seen for miles. The ten greenhouses are integral to Beck’s trait integration program, ensuring that we release the latest trait technology concurrently with the best genetics.
In the greenhouses, the name of the game is speed. The objective is for the corn plants to germinate, flower, and mature in fewer than 110 days. Corn doesn’t thrive in indoor environments, but, with a little ingenuity, the team has a very successful track record. Hot water heats the floor in the winter, and evaporative coolers, fans and ridge vents mitigate heat stress in the summer. Water and fertilizer is spoon fed through a drip irrigation system. Pests like spider mites and aphids are kept at bay with a diligent control program. These strategies have been in place since Beck’s built its first greenhouse in 2004.
One of the biggest challenges-- and therefore opportunities to improve upon-- for greenhouse corn production is artificial lighting. Since their construction 15 years ago, each 4,000 ft2 greenhouse was illuminated by 68 high pressure sodium bulbs. Each bulb was 1,000 Watts. Those lights functioned like those at the corner of so many farm shops across the Midwest — flipped on or off by a switch. Except the greenhouse lights are only on from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. as the plants still need to rest, after all.
Sodium lights do an acceptable job of supplementing natural sunlight; but there was considerable room for improvement. A few years ago, the greenhouse team began testing alternative light sources that would improve corn growing outcomes and save energy. After testing many different lights, Beck’s invested in 500 Watt LED fixtures.
LED lights can modulate output, meaning on a cloudy day, the light fixtures can run wide open or at 25, 50 or 75 percent of full capacity. The savings quickly mount versus an on-or-off 1000W bulb. Each greenhouse has independent solar radiation sensors that adjust the intensity of the LEDs in response to the conditions outside the greenhouse. The new bulbs cast a pink or purple glow in the greenhouses because plants don’t use much green or yellow light. The LED lights save energy by omitting those wavelengths. The lifespan of each LED fixture is projected to be much longer than that of the sodium bulbs, saving additional maintenance costs over time.
All told, the new lights are projected to save on Beck’s annual power bill. Beck’s is run like any other family business, any time one department improves efficiency, the whole farm benefits. Looking forward, Beck’s will continue to invest in long-term capital improvements to help farmers succeed.
Author: Samantha Miller
Categories: CropTalk, 2019