Windsor·Audio

How much light is coming from Essex County greenhouses? Researchers want to know

With the help of drones, experts are looking to shed some light on the issue of greenhouse illumination in Essex County.

University of Guelph researchers will use drones to measure light from greenhouses

The night sky in Kingsville is shown in an October 2020 file photo. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

With the help of drones, experts are looking to shed some light on the issue of greenhouse illumination in Essex County.

The research project is being led by the University of Guelph and engineering professor William Lubitz.

Speaking with CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Friday, Lubitz said that measuring the light created by the commercial greenhouses is more complicated than it sounds.

An engineer from Guelph is measuring how much light is escaping greenhouses in Kingsville and Leamington, Tony Doucette speaks with William Lubitz. He's a professor in the School of Engineering at the University of Guelph.

"It's very difficult to measure it consistently and to measure it in a way where it will be comparable to other cases, so like if we want to compare the greenhouses to the football stadiums," he said.

In the last few years, the night skies in the county have gotten a glow-up, with bright purple, orange and yellow hues emanating from greenhouses where vegetables and cannabis are grown. The controversial makeover has left municipalities and some residents, well, not exactly beaming.

Light from a greenhouse illuminates the sky. (Peter Loewen)

"It does make an impression — no argument there — especially on those foggy or cloudy nights," Lubitz said.

It's also prompted action from municipalities such as Leamington and Kingsville, which have passed bylaws telling growers to cut the lights.

Curtains work to cut the light, researcher says

One solution is to block the light at the source, within the greenhouses themselves, using curtains. According to Lubitz, they can bring the level of light down to one per cent, but the solution isn't without complications.

"Those plants make moisture, those plants need the right temperatures — not too hot, not too cold — and when you close those curtains, you also block the ventilation. You block one of the main ways you can control that environment inside the greenhouse."

The first drone flights were completed last winter, as part of a three-year project.

Lubitz said the growth of Ontario's greenhouse industry has been "really impressive to watch."

"The growers are getting better. They're getting more experience. The number of crops is increasing. So it's a fascinating industry that's able to provide more and more to Ontarians," he said. "But it has come with some complications."

More from CBC Windsor:

With files from Windsor Morning

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