I’ve been in the commercial lighting industry for around 16 years – working in AgTech is a whole different ball game!
“More growers are understanding artificial lighting is a necessity for commercial growing”
I would say that energy saving, especially with the current soaring costs, is the biggest driver in the CEA market now. We’re going through a difficult period, where an investment in indoor farming with the soaring energy costs might not seem at least on paper the safest thing to do, but investing in technology now is essential to save long-term. Sometimes it can be a challenge when speaking with growers in selling that concept, but more growers are now understanding that artificial lighting is a necessity for growing on a commercial scale. With a mix of seasons in the UK they’re solely depending on natural daylight, which isn’t really sustainable or feasible here; or they will only use lighting for the darker months of the year as they use natural daylight the rest of the time. However, when we point out that it is possible to have a consistent light level throughout the 12 months, they respond extremely positively to that. That’s when they start to see the benefits of an LED grow lighting system.
“Funding is out there – growers don’t know this”
One thing I’m really surprised about is the lack of awareness regarding the funding opportunities available for indoor farming. When we speak with growers, they’re not even aware of such a thing. This was evident recently at a trade fair, where no one seemed to know about schemes such as the Farming Transformation Fund, where the government will subsidise 60% of the investment for a proven sustainable business model, which is what indoor farming is! There’s a lot of talk around high start-up costs, which is outweighed by the long-term ROI. Funding really does address this, so I’d like to these sorts of opportunities more visible to growers, this could really ignite the market and ensure the UK has better food security sooner.
When I first joined LST, I thought it would be simply selling LEDs to greenhouse growers to save 60% on energy, but it doesn’t work like that at all. In some ways, coming into this industry was like a baptism of fire, as I quickly realised there are so many other elements for a grower to consider. Each one has different requirements and the grow lights form just part of a tailored solution for them to get the best out of their crops. I would say to anyone stepping into my shoes, getting the basics right of what is important to a grower is vital. If you go in with an approach of just trying to sell a luminaire and saying it is better than our competitors, you’re going to get nowhere fast!
“It’s about the science and technical stuff – not sales patter”
The importance of getting the light recipe right and knowing how different light recipes affect crop were all new to me. It’s a sustainable business model – not just some new lights and away we go. It’s also about having a technical understanding of how it works and grasping the science behind it, which goes beyond sales patter. Some of these growers have 20-30 years’ experience and know their stuff inside out – you can’t just sell them a luminaire by telling them it’s got a longer warranty or is less expensive, you need to earn their respect and explain how nurturGROW can make a difference to their business and reduce CAPEX and OPEX costs long-term, and what its capabilities are. They can’t be fooled.
Cereal farmers – barley, wheat – there’s just no money in it now. It’s just not feasible, they’re going to have to change their way of thinking, seeing what else they can grow. I think growers that have that flexibility or open-minded approach are the ones that will be successful. Some are still set in their ways, and I fear for them because they may get left behind.
“Don’t get too comfortable – it’s good to push yourself for more”
I would say to my 21-year-old self, find an industry that you enjoy and have a passion for, and stick with it. You’ve also got to jump in at the deep end sometimes; it’s important not to let yourself get comfortable. Always push yourself to move on to bigger and better things; you can get stale in a repetitive role. That’s why I wanted to come onboard with LST as its culture promotes that; if you want to be successful the opportunity is there, but you’ve got to push yourself. Nobody else will do it for you.
There’s a relaxed feel about working for LST yet we’re all focused on one goal. Everyone is on the same page as to what it is we’re trying to achieve here. Everyone fully understands the part they’re playing. It’s a very open culture where nothing’s ever dismissed out of hand and everyone gets the chance to contribute with ideas. It’s so refreshing to see when you’re encouraged to just speak openly.
“Sustainable farming will further seep into our consciousness”
Within five years, I do believe that it will pay to produce our own food, as a country. Instead of relying on imported produce at a cost of £11 billion a year, that money will be kept within the UK because we’ll start to grow it ourselves and be more self-sustaining. It’s still in the early stages, but I think eventually it will become a very ‘day to day’ thing. More consumers are seeing how simple it is to grow micro greens and herbs at home, which is making people more aware of where their food actually comes from, and how it is produced. COP26 has also helped open our eyes to the urgent need for a transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food. Once this thinking further seeps into the public consciousness, it’ll completely revolutionise our culture. That’s why AgTech promotes a massive opportunity.