Ahead of Indoor AgTech next month, Alessandro Oliveri, CEO at igrox shares his thoughts on the next steps for LED technologies and how growers can capitalize on lighting and environmental controls to improve indoor grown produce.

Tell us what is the next frontier for LED technology and how will this advance the CEA industry?

Over the last few years LED devices have quickly improved performances and reliability, following the evolution rate of electronics which allows us to constantly reduce the power consumption of vertical farms. We are continuing to improve but there are technological limits that cannot be overcome, and we are getting closer and closer.

Thanks to our constant commitment to optimization, our customers can grow 1kg of high-quality edible lettuce with around 5,5 kWh of energy consumption (only lighting).

To keep improving, one crucial point are future developments working on light control: we are working on modifying spectrum and intensity in a wide range of ways.

For example, we are studying how light variation patterns on short time scales that can impact energy consumption, yield and quality. These kinds of variations not only require an excellent lighting management software but also a proper hardware, capable to execute them.

That’s the reason why designing with a look to the future is a must for us.

What are the biggest challenges you are facing as a company and how are you working to alleviate these problems?

As an OEM of LED technology for horticulture we face different challenges in different sectors, from greenhouse to vertical farming but, if you want to grow fast in this pioneer field, the biggest limit is being able to create a strong skilled team. Being part of industry associations and supporting university research is our way to build and attract talent.

From the commercial perspective, having a large production capability and a strong technical partnership with Samsung is the critical factor to ensure our customers have a high-quality service and product.

Looking at the vertical farming industry, I see several interrelated causes that make the environment critical for the operation of vertical farms. Rising energy costs coupled with rising interest rates have put a strain on a sector that is energy intensive and still in need of capital to reach maturity.

We have read about many vertical farms that have reduced operations or even gone out of business. However, I think the main cause of these mishaps is scaling up business models that were not yet profitable. Contingent macroeconomic factors have only exacerbated the problem.

During my speech at the 2022 edition of the Indoor AgTech Innovation Summit I highlighted the need to be more profitable, even if venture capital lets you start your R&D activity, only profits let you keep investing in it.

In the end I have to say that we are not doing anything differently from the past because we have always been focused on profitability and our customers too. Our vertical farming efforts are designing effective lighting systems for the industry, using high quality components, and promoting research and innovations.

Where are today’s growers seeing most success in terms of lighting and environmental controls to improve the quality and productivity of indoor produce?

The relationship between quality and productivity in indoor produce is a complex issue that needs multidisciplinary to be correctly discussed but I want to start from scratch. First, you need to know what quality really means for the fresh salad market in order to generate sales.

Having a strong marketing knowledge of the fresh salad sector is a must. I directly experienced this lack of knowledge at the beginning of Igrox’s activity and I can say that what is good for a scientist is not always good for the market.

In terms of lighting what is very important is to get success and a proper definition of spectrum and light intensity.

Depending on variety, cultivation techniques and protocols, light must be adapted. Optimization of lighting parameters is functional to generative or vegetative growth and impacts on morphology and, in the end, on yield and quality at the cutting.

The goal should not be plant wellness but getting the optimal morphology at the cutting with minimum possible energy consumption. The good news is that if you focus on quality, often yield comes together; on the contrary, developing a wrong morphology could mean poor yield.

You will deliver a case study presentation at Indoor AgTech about your joint venture with Italian grower Kilometro Verde? Can you tell us more about the partnership and what you’re looking forward to sharing with our audience?

Kilometro Verde’s R&D Facility

Kilometro Verde is an Italian vertical farm that has developed its innovative unmanned hydroponic cultivation technology. We have been cooperating with them since the first start-up in 2020, developing a custom LED lighting solution for them.

They are selling their salads, activating step by step all their production capabilities. The process will take a few months.

I think this is one of the most interesting business models in the vertical farming industry. The facility is in Italy where fresh salad prices are overstressed and energy costs are seven times higher than in the USA, it’s completely unmanned and has the most advanced LED system we have ever designed.

During my presentation, I will share metrics about this project, including actual retail pricing and some details about the choices that Kilometro Verde has done to get profitability in this complicated economic environment.

The cooperation between Igrox and Kilometro Verde aims to internationalize the model. Kilometro Verde is looking for investors and potential partners to scale up the model outside of Italy and, of course, Igrox is the official technical partner for the lighting system.

We look forward to being in New York meeting potential customers, partners, and investors.

Don’t miss Alessandro’s presentation on ‘Innovations in Lighting’ on Thursday June 29 at 12.35pm EST. On Friday June 30, he will also host a roundtable discussion on ‘Driving Efficiency: Profitability Through Improved Energy Usage’ at 12.25pm EST. For more information about igrox, visit their exhibition booth at the Marriott Marquis in New York Times Square.