Indoor farming is booming, with global Agri-tech forecast to reach around £44bn by 2027 at a CAGR of 9.5%. Simon Deacon, CEO of Derby-based start-up Light Science Technologies, discusses creating the perfect plant recipe, opening its ‘world-first’ Covid-friendly lab and changing the face of food production.
Hi Simon. Could you tell us a little bit more about Light Science Technologies (LST)?
We provide the sensor and lighting technology for an enclosed environment, be it a polytunnel, a greenhouse or a modern vertical farm where it is a controlled environment.
Through a highly bespoke process, we determine the correct recipe needed for growers to achieve optimum crop yield and reduce CAPEX and OPEX cost.
We assess and measure an enclosed environment – that is the environment that plants are being grown in – and then we emulate the same conditions in our in-house lab, something we purposely constructed in 2020. Using real-time data, we measure and fine-tune all the elements – such as CO2 levels, airflow and light – to show the impact of identified changes and to determine the right solution for that specific grower’s needs, to get the best results for their crop.
[image: Inside LST’s Lab, courtesy of Light Science Technologies.]
How do you differentiate yourselves in the market?
Our lighting products are recyclable and are 20% bespoke to the client, which means they are 20% cheaper when replaced. This is a significant cost saving. The end-of-life products are re-used with interchangeable electronics, so we simply change out the internal board. Our group company is a Contract Electronic Manufacturer which enables us to carry out the circuitry design.
This exchange means the client utilises the latest technology which is more energy-efficient.
We can also change the recipe on light to grow different plants which is quite unique. A lot of lighting products on the markets are fixed so our competitors are unable to do this. And as mentioned above, using sensor technology which is under development with real-time data is a game-changer. Most of our competitors only offer lighting – this is only one part of the growing recipe, not an ‘all in one’ solution that provides analysis of closed environment conditions. LST is capturing everything to grow a plant.
What was your last major milestone?
The opening of our in-house lab, without question. We purposely constructed it at our Derby premises in 2020 to help create the right growing recipe and generally, for plant science and the development of horticulture lighting and environmental technologies.
The facilities have four fully equipped scientist workstations, and the lab is one of the first in the world designed to allow our scientists to continue working safely even through a pandemic. We have significantly invested in a grow testing facility, Conviron A2000 grow chambers, where we can run up to 12 concurrent trials in six chambers to mimic any environment controlling temperature, humidity and CO2. Here, we have access to industry-leading scientists in different plant species and can prototype new crops before investment.
Our lab team of experts also benefit from our partnerships to deliver game-changing results. This has been shown through our ongoing collaboration with Nottingham Trent University to support data collection, an ongoing project which has been funded through Innovate UK.
We have also invested in lighting testing with our Quantum PAR Photo-Goniometer testing facility to validate the performance of existing solutions as well as compare new ones independently.
[image: LST lab’s Conviron growth chambers, courtesy of Light Science Technologies.]
How has your company adapted to the outbreak of COVID-19?
We have shown how adaptable we can be in our response to the pandemic with our lab – as mentioned before, it’s one of the first in the world designed to allow our scientists to continue working safely even through a pandemic. Our core team of staff who help drive LST forwards in other areas, including senior management and our marketing team, have all worked from home, and our achievements through this challenging period have shown that having the right talent in place combined with harnessing the technology available means we’ve not only overcome challenges but we’ve also excelled. Of course, we are also very fortunate to be working in tech, which has exploded during Covid to further unleash its capabilities.
How do you see the industry changing in a post-COVID-19 world?
Way before Covid, we faced a deepening global crisis with food production on many levels and for a long time, there has been a dire need to address these major issues concerning the environment, pollution, food security, burgeoning population and sustainability. Covid has only served to exacerbate these issues and demonstrated that we need to pay attention and act now before it is too late.
The industry will only go from strength to strength, as we are offering a viable solution to this massive worldwide problem, not just for the sake of the global food production system but for the planet and all of humankind. We have shown that vertical farming, polytunnels and greenhouses can produce flavoursome produce such as leafy greens, tomatoes and microgreens; it won’t be long before we are using these methods to farm fish, potatoes, fruit and other food groups. We are also now using CEA to grow medicinal plants which in itself could be revolutionary for our health and wellness.
We have only just started to scratch the surface of what CEA farming can do and how it can radically change things. The next decade is going to be a very exciting one for agri-tech.
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About Simon Deacon
Chief Executive Officer of Light Science Technologies
Having established his first business almost 30 years ago, Simon has since founded, acquired and grown multiple businesses in Lighting, Electronics, Display manufacture and is co-founder of a Digital / Retail Consultancy, which has been adopted by numerous global retailers and brands in the retail sector.
Simon oversees the strategy of the business and never stops to explore different ways of expanding and growing LST’s portfolio.