Pesticides work well, but as a one-size-fits-all method, they are the embodiment of pre-21st-century technology when applied to the natural world. Pesticides can be dangerous for animals and people, which they were never intended for, as they are truly inexact in targeting. Pesticides are loathed for a reason, but they are also used for one: crops will be damaged and destroyed without proper pest and disease management. But, could some bold developments in LED testing make the use of pesticides obsolete?
Jaimin Patel, a plant pathologist working at the Lighting Research Center of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, thinks so. As LEDs have become commonly applied to farming techniques to improve growth, taste, and space requirements, there may be yet another way they can help us with our crops: the stop of plant disease and degradation.
Patel is studying the effects of particular wavelengths of LEDs on plants. In particular, he is researching which pathogens crumble in which light and how this knowledge can be used on a more wide scale. For example, his team recently figured out how to attack certain mildew pathogens that are sensitive to light and harmful to plants. That team has worked with everything from cucumbers to strawberries and sees similarities in the way light affects all.
When speaking with Lux magazine, the researcher made a specific example of how basil can be improved:
“I want to make sure that my research controls diseases as well as increases some of the crops marketability parameters, for example in the case of basil,” he said. “LED light could be used to increase the weight of basil leaves, meaning that if the plants are sold by weight, then there is going to be financial advantage for the grower.”
This type of sustainable growing is needed in a world where land is at a premium and crops are vital. In the past, although the LED technology was possible, the cost of effectively using it on a wide scale was insurmountable. This may no longer be an issue.
If everything from pathogens to plant flavors can be transformed by LED testing, than perhaps so can their vulnerabilities to pests. This is part of the hope in those who see a future where pesticides are no longer needed and well-calibrated LED lights are set with an eye towards horticulture. A future of a cleaner environment is something we can all be excited about.