Greenhouse growers need plenty of light to nurture crop plants and flowers, but the nighttime glow from increasing numbers of glasshouses in Ontario has municipalities looking to crack down on light pollution.
Now, a University of Guelph engineer is leading a pioneering drone project intended to help curb light leaks from commercial greenhouses, ensuring optimum plant yields for the province’s ever-growing vegetable and flower production.
Dr. William Lubitz, a professor in the School of Engineering, and graduate student Benjamin Snow are using drone technology to measure light emanating from Ontario greenhouses.
“It’s common to measure light inside a greenhouse and its effects on crops. There’s much less information on light that comes out of greenhouses,” says Lubitz. “We’re trying to fill that gap in Ontario.”
The project will help provide data that is lacking even as municipalities, notably Kingsville and Leamington, Ont., have enacted bylaws to limit light pollution from growers.
“Measuring light is actually very difficult in the field,” says Lubitz. Light contains varying spectra and people perceive light differently depending on its amount, colour, intensity and other factors.
Drone technology can help measure light emanating from greenhouses. The team will collect photos and data from light intensity sensors mounted on a drone hovering above the greenhouses. By opening and closing light abatement curtains on the greenhouse ceilings and varying the lighting, they will study amounts and kinds of illumination.
The team hopes their data will help growers find an optimum balance while complying with light pollution bylaws. This work is part of a larger project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, with support from the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.