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The Top 10 Lighting Challenges for Cultivation Operations


There are dozens of elements that can complicate the cultivation process. But few are as complex—or as hotly debated—as lighting.

Both indoor and greenhouse growers invest hours of research, calculations, and experimentation to find the right lighting for their facility. They weigh everything from the needs of their plants to the needs of their budget.

The lighting system they choose determines how their facility should be wired and the overall cost of operations. Their grow lights even dictate the need for additional environmental controls, such as supplemental cooling.

In other words, lighting is a huge consideration, from selecting a manufacturer to programming photoperiods.

A recent report published by Cannabis Business Times reveals the newest trends in cultivation lighting. Among other substantial data, the report covers the most common lighting challenges growers confront in their operations. If you’re a grower yourself, these are no doubt roadblocks you can relate to.

We’ve highlighted the top challenges here. We’ve also combined insights gained from the report with our own experience as an LED grow light manufacturer. Our goal is to help you find solutions to the most common worries in cultivation.


1. Impact on Plant Growth and Quality

For anyone serious about cultivation, the end product is always the first concern.

According to CBT, 22% of the growers surveyed point to lighting’s impact on plant growth as their greatest lighting challenge.

In an industry where technology is advancing at record speeds, this is hardly a surprise. HIDs were the high performers of the past. Now top-tier LED grow lights eclipse MH and HPS bulbs.

LED lamps provide full spectrum lighting, not the fixed narrow spectrum limitations of HID bulbs. Advanced LED fixtures even offer variable spectrum control and supplemental UVB lighting. Features like these allow growers to fully manage the chemical profile of their crop.

If your top priority is to find the best lighting for quality growth, industry-leading LEDs are the place to start. Check out what happened when Swell Farms swapped their HPS setup for the SolarSystem 1100 LED grow light.

2. Handling Heat

Maintaining a controlled environment is complicated enough before you add lighting to the formula. Hot lights carry a risk of overheating plants, which means you have to be ready with a cooling and ventilation system to keep temperatures in the sweet spot.

LED grow lights take some of the headache out of the heat problem. These lamps feature a much lower heat output than other types of grow light. Less heat radiation means less work for you and a longer life for your lights.


3. The Energy Cost of Cultivation

According to CBT’s report, managing energy costs came in third, with 17% of respondents listing it as a top concern.

Once again, we were not shocked to learn this. Or this:

More than 50% of the growers surveyed reported that 35% or more of their electrical bill went toward lighting.

Lighting accounts for such a large chunk of a grower’s energy expense. As a result, it’s the first area many cultivators look to for budget control. This is another reason we’re seeing LED lighting take off. The best LED light fixtures save up to 50% in energy costs over traditional HID lights.


4. Uniformity

Consistent, predictable growth is essential in commercial cultivation. And many growers find this feat to be easier said than done.

For one thing, not all grow lights provide an even light spread. Even those that do can only provide uniform coverage if the grower knows how to position the lights correctly. Too much overlap can create unintended hot spots. The opposite is also a common problem: lights placed too far apart leave sections of your crop starving for photons.

Many growers use light mapping techniques to measure light quality at different points throughout the canopy. Light mapping is an excellent way for cultivators to continually monitor light intensity throughout the grow space.

This is also an area where you grow light manufacturer should be prepared to help you. As you research lighting system options, request data from third-party testing. The manufacturer should be able to provide specifics regarding light coverage. The best companies will even help you determine the right hanging heights and spacing for your greenhouse or indoor grows.


5. Selecting the Best Lighting for Each Stage of Growth

One element of the CBT report we found particularly interesting was the data regarding which lighting growers use for each stage of growth.

As it currently stands, T5 fluorescents are still the number one choice for propagation. But with only 50% of growers using them, these lights have actually taken a 15-point dive in the last four years.

LED grow lights are now the number one choice for vegetation, marking a 29-point gain from 17% in 2016 to 46% in 2019.

And while HPS lights still lead for flowering, they’re barely hanging on to that position. In fact, 39% of growers plan to implement LED lighting for the flowering stage within the next year.

CBT’s study revealed one overall trend: LED grow lights showed the fastest rise in popularity for every phase. Why would this be?

One very likely reason is that LED technology is advancing faster than every other category of grow light. It’s also a versatile technology, allowing us to customize more nuanced lighting systems for the shifting needs of plants as they develop.

Traditional cultivation wisdom has said you need one type of lighting for propagation, one for veg, and one for flowering. LEDs are now on the scene saying, “We can do it all.”


6. Light Placement and Positioning

This is another big headache for professionals in the field of cultivation. Grow light placement is a true science. The quality of light your plants receives depends heavily on both multilevel and horizontal positioning.

First, there’s the issue of coverage. The distance between fixtures influences your ability to achieve uniformity in your light spread. Position your grow lights too close together, and you get hot spots from the overlap. Hang them too far apart, and several plants wilt under low quality light.

You also have to factor in hanging heights. The farther your light is from the canopy, the larger the footprint. But more distance means less light intensity for your plants, as intensity depreciates the farther you get from the light source.

Once again, it pays to buy your grow lights from a manufacturer who can provide light measurements and understands the science of cultivation. It’s also a good idea to have your own system for measuring light quality throughout the grow facility. Light mapping helps you diagnose problems and adjust light placement as needed.


7. Adjusting Light Setup and Settings to Cultivation Environment

This is a big one for greenhouse growers. All cultivators work hard to fine-tune spectrum and photoperiod. But greenhouse professionals have the added struggle of balancing their lighting system with the natural environment.

Fortunately, this problem is easily solved with advanced LED technology. Greenhouse-specific lighting like the GH Pro 340 provides an automatic light balance function.

This specific unit is programmable through Bluetooth technology. The grower enters spectrum settings and lighting schedule through an app. Then, the GH Pro 340 uses photosensors to read the sunlight available to plants. The light automatically dims as needed to guarantee consistent spectrum and light intensity all day long, no matter the season.


8. Automating Light Functions

Speaking of automation, a streamlined cultivation operation requires lighting equipment you can trust to run on its own.

In commercial cultivation, automation is everything. The more your facility runs itself, the more freedom you have to focus on actually running the business. Automatic on/off functions have been around for a while. But the rise of LED technology introduces even more automation possibilities.

High quality LED grow lights allow you to automate light spectrum as well as photoperiod. With the SolarSystem series by California LightWorks, you can program the light spectrum down to the minute for up to 365 days. To put it another way, you can set your lights to automatically transition between grow phases over the course of an entire harvest cycle.

LED tech also allows for automated sunrise/sunset functions, so you don’t shock your crop with abrupt shifts between day and night. And as we covered above, supplemental LED grow lights do wonders to help greenhouse cultivators balance sunlight.


9. Customizing Spectrum

In an odd way, cultivation concern #9 reveals the advantages created by LED innovations.

For many years, customizing the perfect spectrum would not have been a concern because it wasn’t a possibility. Now, with variable spectrum LED grow lights, commercial growers do have the power to manipulate their crops.

The light spectrum you choose influences everything from plant shape to chemical profile. This introduces a new challenge for cultivators to discover the optimal formula. There is no question that this can be a stressful conundrum in an increasingly competitive market. But we’d also say it’s a great problem to have.


10. Manufacturer Support

The CBT report only highlighted the nine challenges above. But based on our own interactions with growers, we know manufacturer support is a major concern, as well.

We also know it’s an easy one to overlook when your focus is on finding top quality lights.

When you dive into grow light research, get to know the companies as well as the units themselves. As you know all too well, a cultivation lighting system is a significant investment. That investment should come with a great warranty and reliable customer support.

We personally believe the best grow lights come from people who are passionate about cultivation. We love the science of gardening, and we admire our growers. That’s why we work hard to equip you with the most powerful and advanced lamps on the market.

If you’d like to learn more about how California LightWorks can help you overcome every one of these lighting challenges, you can reach us right here. We also invite you to check out our SolarSystem series engineered for commercial grows.


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