April 6, 2021
Expert Interview: Timo Bongartz, GM of Fluence EMEA
Pioneering European Cannabis Cultivation with LED Lighting Solutions: a Q&A with Fluence EMEA General Manager Timo Bonartz.
The legal European cannabis industry is still young compared to its North American counterparts. As more operations pop up in Germany, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, cultivators will demand partners who can do more than sell products. They need proven advisers with the right combination of cultivation experience, market-specific knowledge and practical scientific expertise that helps them produce the highest-quality cannabis and ultimately grow top-line revenue.
Fluence by OSRAM: Cannabis Lighting Specialists
Fluence by OSRAM, a global provider of energy-efficient LED lighting solutions for controlled environment cannabis production, is pioneering lighting applications and research in the legal commercialisation of cannabis. Fluence has illuminated more than 325,000 square metres of cannabis canopy worldwide and approaches customer projects comprehensively to ensure the cultivation and financial goals of its growers are realised. It provides growers with the latest photobiology and applied scientific research and connects them to teams of proven horticulture experts with local market knowledge who can provide on-site guidance and consulting. With its regional headquarters in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Fluence believes the only way to truly help cultivators perfect their operational strategies and deliver the highest quality products is through collaboration, by being in the growers’ greenhouses or indoor farms with them.
Based on Scientific Photobiology Research
Fluence is also committed to industry-leading research partnerships that explore how light influences crucial performance metrics like plant yield, biomass, consistency and quality. The company recently conducted a groundbreaking photobiology study, in partnership with the prestigious Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands, that examined supplemental lighting’s effect on cannabis flower quality and yield in greenhouse production. The greenhouse study verified that while lower supplemental light spectra do not significantly influence cannabis yield, a lower percentage of red light correlates with an increase in cannabinoid concentrations in some cultivars, and that spectrum sensitivity is cultivar dependent. The findings reinforce what should be a core focus for cultivators around the world; cannabis cultivation is a top-line game. The cultivators most willing to embrace that philosophy and deploy lighting strategies that increase revenue—rather than cut costs—will be best positioned to compete and win in their respective markets for years to come.
Fluence’s extensive cannabis research programme in North America is continuing to fuel the market with new findings that benefit our collective understanding of how light impacts cannabis plant production. These findings are shared with the global network of cannabis growers and can be found at www.fluence.science/science
What trends are you seeing in the development of European cannabis markets today?
Most growers in Europe are relatively new adopters of LED lighting and might not be
as familiar with strategies to optimise yield and quality in their operations. European markets, however, have the added benefit of being able to draw on generations of proven expertise in other horticulture areas. I’m anticipating that a lot of experts in other crops will make the jump to cannabis as the market matures. For example, chrysanthemums are short-day plants similar to cannabis, so ornamental growers with a proven track record could make the transition to cannabis production and be successful. That’s especially true when they have access to research and a team of experts—like we have at Fluence— who can be there with them on the ground to make that transition even easier. European growers are well known for their understand- ing of commercial crop cultivation. Though we can learn from our friends in North America, we can also apply techniques perfected by our generational growers here in Europe.
How does Fluence help European cannabis growers, specifically those searching for data-driven insights to improve their top- line growth?
We’re focused on controlled environments in countries like Portugal, Germany, France, Italy and Denmark that are becoming hot- beds for medical cannabis production. These markets are still young, and cultivators are hungry for insights and best practices that can give them a competitive advantage. It’s our job to help them do that. We have more than 325,000 square metres of cannabis canopy under our LED lights. That’s a huge install base, which gives us a wealth of knowledge and experience that cultivators can draw from. We’re proud to have a skilled horticulture services team based in Europe that knows cannabis production, speaks the growers’ languages, understands the nuances of the local markets and supports growers every day in their facilities. That’s especially critical for cannabis growers because we know that each facility and operation is unique. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to lighting or cannabis production in general. That’s why we emphasise boots-on-the-ground partner- ships with growers to adopt the right lighting strategy for each environment, whether that’s a warm-climate greenhouse with a high daily light integral or a cold-climate warehouse that uses 100% supplemental light. We love working with growers who want data and analytics to understand highly tactical and operationally specific needs like photo acclimation, seasonal production and compressed cultivation cycles.
What are the top three insights or practices that the European market can take away from the North American market?
It’s important that growers first take the time to understand their business models and products. Do you want to compete in the high-end flower market or will you focus on extracts and edibles? Do you want to enter the growing CBD market or produce well-rounded cannabis products that fit the needs of physicians and their patients? Identifying customer needs up front allows growers to tailor their strategies to deliver the correct products that meet market demand. Secondly, use research to inform those strategies at every opportunity. For example, our study with Wageningen University and Re- search shows that cultivators who focus on high-end flower production should apply high photosynthetically active photon flux density (PPFD) levels to enhance plant growth. Facility space is limited and expensive in Europe, so maximising capacity becomes even more critical. Growing under high PPFD and broad-spectrum lighting can help growers produce consistent, high-quality crops with balanced cannabinoid and terpene profiles that are absent under legacy lighting systems like high pressure sodium vapour (HPS). Lastly, focus on year-round consistency. As markets become more saturated, cultivators competing in the high-end flower market, for instance, will need to meet the standards customers set for them regardless of the
time of year. We see some growers cut back on supplemental lighting during the winter months, which leads to lower-grade plants. But as competition gets more intense, growers will need to deliver year-round consistency. Greenhouse growers in particular should ensure they maintain the same environmental conditions during the winter and summer. Otherwise they’ll see different results and the end product will be inconsistent and unreliable for customers.
About Timo Bongartz
Timo Bongartz has spent more than a de- cade helping businesses transform legacy processes into interconnected digital strategies. His passion for accelerating business transformation—combined with a childhood affinity for cultivation—ultimately led him to the horticulture industry. Today, Bongartz serves as the General Manager for Fluence by OSRAM’s EMEA region, empowering food, ornamental and pharmaceutical crop growers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa to achieve their cultivation goals through advanced horticultural lighting technologies.
The European Cannabis Report: 6th Edition takes a deep dive on the current social, economic, regulatory and health trends. The report also includes sales forecasts of medical and adult-use cannabis in the US and Canada.
Expert Interview: Timo Bongartz, GM of Fluence EMEA
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