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Enhanced Light Solution for Sustainable Cropping

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ENLIGHT (Enhanced Light Solution for Sustainable Cropping)

Reporting period: 2021-11-01 to 2023-04-30

The need for food increases as the world population is growing, while farmers income is low representing only 40% of average European wages. Farmers are in direct need for innovative technologies to boost crop yields without increasing production costs. Adopting cost efficient sustainable technologies that enable climate resilient crop production is a priority.

CASCADE developed a game-changing solution in the form of masterbatches using its LIGHT CASCADE® technology to shift a portion of the sunlight spectrum, little used by plants, into wavelengths most efficiently used for photosynthesis and plant development. LIGHT CASCADE® technology can be incorporated into greenhouse film to benefit growers. In addition to boosting yields, LIGHT CASCADE® technology makes growing food sustainable by reducing water and fertilizer use.

Though CASCADE technology can benefit any plant, CASCADE has a per crop approach targeting first berries and key vegetable crops in Spain and Italy, two largest greenhouse European markets.
With ENLIGHT project, CASCADE has been able to validate its multi-season technology now ready to be launched by end 2023. It will allow CASCADE to expand throughout Europe with the support from first two customers, leading European film producers, AGRIPOLYANE, #2 in Europe and PATI from Italy.

Market development of LIGHT CASCADE® technology will result in increase of horticultural production (+10% yield), saving of water and fertilizer (>-16%) and reduction of carbon footprint: it is a sustainable technology.

Further development in new market segments such as glass greenhouses of Northern Europe will start soon to benefit new farmers all over Europe. A contract has already been signed with #2 world player of internal greenhouse thermal curtains to enter this new market.
The project achieved its ambitious objectives in terms of agronomy performances, and improved technology durability. CASCADE is now ready to launch its multi-season technology to farmers by end 2023.

Upscaling encapsulation technology to produce a ready-to-use masterbatch by agriculture film producer with multi-year efficiency has been the core work of this project. To produce long-life masterbatch, dye photoactive formulations need to be shielded by encapsulation into particles via chemical reaction.
At start of the project, encapsulation was validated in collaboration with a university partner in Lyon, France. We then installed a small 2-liter chemistry reactor in our lab and hired an experienced chemist to start this reactor and further optimize chemical synthesis parameters. In the next step, a larger 50-liter reactor was installed, and the particle synthesis was upscaled to this large reactor.
Finally, further work was devoted to produce a masterbatch integrating particles ready to be extruded into a film. We encountered difficulties to disperse the particles into the film that required additional R&D work. This technical issue solved, we then produced multi-season films for agro-trials.
Final industrial upscaling to fully outsource on a 500 to 1000-liter reactor is on process to expand production capacity and reduce costs.

In parallel to this encapsulation work, new dye mixtures were investigated with a new formulation adapted to tomato crop and another one that showed good preliminary agronomic results in cut flowers.
Though the 50-liter reactor installation was delayed by 6 months due to COVID sanitary situation, we managed to reorganize R&D planning to use the small reactor for first agro-trials in order not to delay overall project. A first lab-scale multi-season film was tested early 2022 and a multi-season production was run at industrial scale to produce 300 meters of greenhouse films used to carry out full scale agronomic trials in France and Spain.
Agronomic trials: demonstration and validation at farmers
• Over the 2-year ENLIGHT project 53 agronomic trials were carried out, 46 had no major drawbacks (disease, storm, or too late film installation). Trials were conducted with local experimental farms or at farmers on 3 segments:
o High Tunnels berries: 20
o Greenhouses in South Med. countries for vegetables: 16
o Greenhouses in Northern Europe: 10

• Results confirmed agronomic benefits and opened new perspectives for Italy & Morocco on cut flower market. Measures on various pests and diseases also showed positive results with better resistance for tomatoes and berries grown under CASCADE films. When adding the 14 trials carried out before project starts, 60 valid trials that can be used to quantify benefits:
o Crop yields increased > 14%
o Water & Nutrients reduction >-16%
o Few days Precocity
o Improved Plant Health
o Fruit/Vegetable Quality

Market launch of our one-season technology confirmed farmers’ interest in CASCADE technology. However, convincing farmers to invest in CASCADE technology requires a marketing pull approach, a close connection with film distributors to push the product down to farmers and a focus on targeted markets segments:
• PULL approach: CASCADE needs to reach out directly to farmers to encourage them to buy from film producers:
o Developing CASCADE BRAND: CASCADE created 3 brands, “CASCADE” (company), “LIGHT CASCADE” (technology) and “LitePlus” (product), and a baseline “ENLIGHTEN YOUR CROP” to promote our name and vision. CASCADE already achieved good brand recognition in Spain and is building it up in Italy, Germany and France.
o Communications tools: CASCADE carried out many communication actions such as testimonials, videos, Media, social media, Webinars, billboards, posters and conferences.

• PUSH STRATEGY: Actions toward film producers consist in close sales relationship and co-marketing actions: website support, joint webinars, farm events, fair participation. CASCADE is also building connection to their key distributors in direct contact to farmers to support launch phase.

• FOCUS on KEY MARKET: To be effective, Pull and Push actions are adapted to the local targeted market, geography and crops. CASCADE is focusing on only few key markets:
o 5 key countries: Spain, Italy, Germany, UK, and France
o 3 key groups of crops: Berries, Tomato, a group of 4 main vegetables (pepper, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini)

Work performed during ENLIGHT project period has well prepared CASCADE to launch its forthcoming multi-season new product by end 2023. It is now ready to be produced in industrial quantity with a well-planned go-to-market action plan.
LIGHT CASCADE® technology transforms natural sunlight into enhanced blue and red light providing a yield gain of at least 10%. It from existing agrotechnologies as it provides an affordable (1 000 €/Ha/Yr), nature-based solution that brings agronomic benefits making protected agriculture more sustainable and profitable for farmers.
State-of-the-art technologies that contribute to more efficient plant development do not use natural sunlight enhancement but rather plant genetics, agrochemicals, digital farming, LEDs. All these technologies are complementary to CASCADE’s revolutionary technology.
Results obtained during the ENLIGHT project have confirmed agronomic and environmental benefits beyond state of the art:

Agronomic benefits:
o Crop yields increased by > 14%
o Few days Precocity
o Improved Plant Health
o Fruit/Vegetable Quality

Environmental benefits:
o Water & Nutrients savings >16%
o Optimized land use: producing more on same surface
CASCADE double roofs application
CASCADE validation trials
CASCADE multi-season technology on pepper corps
CASCADE strategic crops (interim report)