How Wheatfield Gardens switched to the Candidus lighting control system and grew their crops more efficiently and consistently
Company: Wheatfield Gardens
Location: North Tonawanda, NY
Crops: Butterhead lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, and hemp
When Wheatfield Gardens first installed dimmable LED lights in their greenhouse in Tonawanda, NY, they found that the light controller they originally installed was over-engineered for their needs. They desired more control over their supplemental lighting to help them grow their crops more predictably, increase energy efficiency, and compete better year-round.
In 2015, a group of investors purchased an abandoned 12.5-acre greenhouse facility in North Tonawanda, N.Y. and named it Wheatfield Gardens. Located about 10 miles north of Buffalo, the Venlo glass greenhouse was constructed in the early 1990s by Oxbow Power to comply
with an order that required power companies to use the excess steam they produced. When the regulations were done away with and it became too hard to compete against imports from Canada and Mexico, Oxbow Power shuttered the greenhouse. Thanks to its new owners, Wheatfield Gardens now produces high-value crops such as butterhead lettuce, herbs, and hemp.
Differentiating with High-Value Crops
While it was operated by Oxbow Power, the greenhouse originally grew vining plants, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. After acquiring the greenhouse facility in 2015, Wheatfield Gardens initially produced vining crops as well.
“We had a deal with a local grocery chain to grow eggplants, English cucumbers, and beef-steak tomatoes,” explains Paal Elfstrum, CEO of Wheatfield Gardens. “We were trying
to market our crops as the locally-grown option. Unfortunately, those three crop categories are highly commoditized.”
Elfstrum worked with researchers at Cornell University and fellow industry colleagues from the Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering (GLASE) consortium to look at alternative, high-value crops. Wheatfield Gardens now produces multiple varieties of hydroponic lettuce, herbs, and auto-flowering hemp cultivars of Cannabis ruderalis in deep water culture.
Butterhead lettuce produced in floating rafts has become the company’s benchmark crop. Growing and distributing lettuce reduces transportation emissions and ultimately improves the flavor of the product because it spends less time traveling to consumers. It can still be difficult to compete, however, and that’s where efficient lighting helped Wheatfield Gardens in more ways than one.
Gaining More Control Over Supplemental Lighting
In 2018, Wheatfield Gardens installed dimmable LEDs that offered light spectrum control, along with a different light controller. “The original light controller was very comprehensive,” said Elfstrum, “but it was over-engineered for the purpose of controlling the lights and what we wanted it to do.”
They recently installed the Candidus light control system to compare its features with those of their original light controller. “The [Candidus] controller really has the functionality that we wanted,” Elfstrum said. “It is more intuitive than any of the other controllers that we looked at. It was designed by a grower for a grower. Many lighting controllers have been designed by lighting company engineers who don’t have growing experience.”
Candidus allowed them to have the level of control they desired over their crop production. “We are trying to be as efficient as possible without sacrificing quality,” Elfstrum said. “For lettuce, we look to achieve a Daily Light Integral (DLI) of 17 moles… The Candidus lighting controller enables us to really have tight control over the DLI. We’re measuring how much energy it takes to achieve the DLI on a seasonal basis. We are able to determine if using supplemental light allows us to reach the lettuce head weight we are trying to achieve.”
With their new combination of LEDs and the Candidus light controller, Wheatfield Gardens can better compete with other lettuce producers by consistently providing lettuce to their customers all year long.
Saving Energy & Money with an Intuitive Control System
Reliable production wasn’t the only benefit of switching to Candidus, however. Wheatfield Gardens also noticed a difference in energy consumption.
Elfstrum said the real advantage of installing the Candidus light controller has been the ability to dim the lights on an active basis to save energy and lower costs. “The dimming function on the Candidus controller is a great option because it allows us to save money and we’re not lighting when the sun is providing all the light the crops need. When the sun emerges and provides the light needed, the Candidus controller reacts to conserve electricity.”
In addition to saving money on sunny days, Wheatfield Gardens can also fully (and automatically) harness the power of supplemental lighting on overcast days and in the winter.
“The lights will come on if we don’t reach the 17-mole DLI threshold,” explained Elfstrum. “If it was cloudy all day, the Candidus lighting control system automatically realizes the deficit and turns the lights on at night to reach 17 moles. That’s the beauty of this control system. If the sun does come out during the winter, we could receive enough light so the Candidus controller automatically shuts off the lights and we save on energy.”
Elfstrum also appreciated the Candidus controller’s ability to track trends and view lighting use history. “We can graph when the lights are operating so we can see when the lights were needed.”
Competing Better with Candidus
How did Candidus stack up against their original light control system? “The Candidus controller, with its sensor at the plant level, offers enhanced control. It begins to dim the lights where our other controller will not. The other controller will just shut the lights off.”
Thanks to Candidus, Wheatfield Gardens is able to embrace its LED lighting system to its full potential and compete better with more consistent crop production year-round.
“The Candidus light control system offers enhanced control. It has the ability to track trends and look at lighting history. The Candidus controller has the functionality that we want. It is more intuitive than any other light controller that we looked at. The Candidus controller was designed by a grower for growers.”
Candidus is based out of Athens, Georgia and was co-founded by Dr. Erico Mattos and Dr. Marc van Iersel, “plant guys” who understand the unique challenges of the business. Our mission is to reduce the cost of supplemental lighting for greenhouse growers by implementing our adaptive lighting control system. Candidus partners with greenhouses to ensure growers maximize their production while minimizing energy costs. We don’t make lights; we make lights better.