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With an entire growing season wrapped up, we reflect on major accomplishments, learning opportunities, and what lies ahead…

As was reported in our first and second chapters, the partnership between Allegro Acres and Sollum Technologies led to the first successful winter growing season for large-scale commercial greenhouse peppers in Canada. The significance of this accomplishment cannot be understated. Producing local peppers during colder winter months provides an invaluable means of adapting to a changing climate as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that increasing temperatures will drastically decrease fruit and vegetable yields. Now looking back at this first project phase, we highlight and discuss the key takeaways from this experience.

SUN as a Service® and the Sollum Support Team
Sollum’s SUN as a Service (SUNaaS) cloud platform simplifies light recipe management by allowing users to easily drag and drop recipes in each of a greenhouse’s “zones”, to monitor their crop’s lighting 24/7, and to adjust their recipes at any time – this is why we like to refer to our system as Plug and Play Sun all day! “The drag and drop tool was great for visualizing the greenhouse layout so that managing lighting zones was quick and seamless” said Allegro Acres’ LED project manager Mike Ross, “and since the Sollum team can perform real-time monitoring on the system and each lighting fixtures, any time we had issues, they were always readily available to assist us so that we never fell behind schedule.” Sollum’s relationship with clients does not end upon delivery of lighting fixtures – our team is there for installation, training, and support every step of the way.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Our smart LED lighting solution is LED by nature and allows users to benefit from the Sun’s full light spectrum: any combination of light wavelengths can be created. Our system also makes the process of light management less complicated by dynamically calibrating LED fixture outputs based on changing ambient light. Our LED fixtures are computers, after all, driven by artificial intelligence and 100% programmable! Our solution is future proof – it gives producers the freedom to implement different lighting recipes without installing new equipment – this also means that the system can be adapted as needed to account for unforeseen challenges and evolving crop plans. As discussed in chapter 2 of our story with Allegro Acres, when undesirably short internodes were observed in pepper plants, far red light was easily added to the spectrum to elongate stem growth. Similarly, when chlorosis affected pepper quality in one zone, the recipe was swapped with that of another zone through the SUNaaS platform – remedying the problem without the hassle of shuffling heavy equipment around.
“Producing winter peppers at this scale was new territory for all of us involved in the project, so we knew that challenges would undoubtedly arise” says Sollum agronomist Rose Séguin. “What is great about Sollum’s solution is that we could take steps to rectify an issue immediately which makes all the difference when it comes to maximizing quality and yield.”

Taking the Heat

Some producers struggled to accommodate the unpredictable temperatures that defined the 2021 growing season. While the highest temperature in Canadian history was reached in British Columbia, in northwestern Ontario, heat waves were experienced just days apart from nights that were almost cold enough to cause frost. Apple orchards in Ottawa struggled with a cold spring and dry summer, with some farmers describing yields as their worst yet. Heading into fall, pumpkin farmers across the country blamed “extreme weather” for a lack-luster harvest. With more unpredictable weather on the horizon due to climate change, the winter pepper production that was accomplished at Allegro Acres sets a necessary precedent for varying growing schedules in Canadian agriculture. 

Sollum’s smart LED lighting solution makes it possible for producers to grow any type of crop regardless of their native climate and the location of their greenhouse. What this past year has taught us is that, as important as it is to empower producers to experiment with growing new crops and varieties, it is also critical that we give them the tools they need to consistently meet the demands of their consumers in a changing climate and in a changing world. With Allegro Acres, we saw how shifting from summer to winter production allowed the peppers to reach peak production before undesirably high temperatures were experienced. Our first season of winter pepper production definitely entailed a learning curve, which our dynamic lighting capabilities allowed us to harness to successfully bring winter peppers to the market and set even higher goals for the next season; this gives us the confidence that our technology will allow other producers to find success in their journey for food sustainability in great respect for the environment. 

The Future Is Bright!

Our story with Allegro Acres is far from over. For the coming season we will be tripling our production area, and planting has already begun – a month earlier than the previous year. Different pepper varieties will be grown, and the growing environment will be adapted with new control measures such as a misting system to better manage humidity and light abatement curtains to better isolate light treatments. It will be exciting to see how these changes interact with one another and how they affect pepper yield and quality.

Our partnership with the Harrow Research and Development Center of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will also continue. They play a critical role in data collection and analysis which helps us provide concrete evidence to support our advocacy for sustainable, local, and year-round agriculture. They also help us analyze other metrics such as energy consumption, which we predict will be further reduced as we continue to optimize our lighting solutions to suit producers’ specific needs. 

We hope you will continue to follow us as we head into the next phase of our adventure with Allegro Acres!

This project is supported, in part, through the Greenhouse Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative, a cost-share program funded by the Ontario Government and delivered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council, on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

About Sustainable Development Technology Canada

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) helps Canadian companies develop and deploy competitive, clean technology solutions, to help solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges: climate change, clean air, clean water and clean soil. By taking a cross-Canada approach, from seed to scale, and in partnership with the best peers and experts, SDTC is the global benchmark for sustainable development innovation programming. Learn more at sdtc.ca

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