Alliances and Innovation headline 2nd annual edition of CEA Summit East in Virginia
Building alliances, sharing information and forging new connections were key themes that drove the Sep. 19-20, 2023, edition of the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Summit East held at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville, Virginia.
Co-hosted by Indoor Ag-Con and the Virginia Tech- IALR Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center, the 2nd annual edition attracted 240 attendees from the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden, including growers, educators, scientists, Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists, suppliers, engineers, tech specialists, architect and developers and other industry members.
During the event, attendees enjoyed quality time to meet, network and learn during keynotes, panels and breakout conference sessions. Attendees also explored 21 tabletop exhibits presenting the latest innovations and services and enjoyed a host of networking opportunities.
“It’s exciting to see this event grow in both attendance and vendor/sponsor support,” Brian Sullivan, CEO at Indoor Ag-Con, said. “Together with the CEA Innovation Center, we’re building a strong event where business and academia unite to drive our industry forward.”
“The CEA Summit exemplifies the collaborative spirit that defines our mission,” Scott Lowman, co-director at Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center and vice president at Applied Research, IALR, said. “It’s rewarding to see industry leaders from all sectors of CEA convene here to share lessons learned, best practices, research findings and ways to help accelerate our collective growth.”
Morning Kick-Off Keynotes
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr kicked off opening morning with his keynote address, “Virginia’s Commitment to Next Generation Agriculture: Leading the Indoor Farming Revolution.” On the 2nd day, AeroFarms President and CFO Guy Blanchard opened the event with a keynote that came on the heels of the company’s announcement that it had emerged fully funded from Chapter 11.
The CEA Summit featured four educational tracks – Grower, Business & Marketing, Up & Coming Technology and Education, Outreach & Workforce Development – that brought academics, growers and business experts together covering a wide range of topics ranging from scaling up and negotiating energy costs to the future of CEA crops, getting started in aquaponics, and lessons learned from recent college graduates entering the CEA sector. Other panel discussions and 15-minute CEA Industry & Research Showcase sessions gave attendees the chance to hear about some of the latest research findings and other industry success stories.
Tabletop exhibits and networking
In addition to conference sessions, attendees had ample opportunities to visit with the Summit’s 21 tabletop exhibitors during coffee breaks, luncheon roundtables and an afternoon cocktail reception.
Graduate student poster competition
This year’s summit kicked off a new CEA Poster Competition to provide an opportunity for graduate students to share high-quality CEA-related research to expose commercial companies to qualified candidates and foster collaboration between individuals in academia and in private industry. Six finalists competed and Nelda Hernandez, Auburn University, took first prize for her poster, “Hydroponics as an Alternative Production System for Strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) in Alabama.”
CEA Innovation Center tour
The event wrapped up with group tours of the CEA Innovation Center. 90+ conference attendees took advantage of the unique opportunity to get an inside look at the CEA Innovation Center’s hydroponic systems and facilities, including the greenhouse and vertical growing racks. They also got to hear more about some of the Center’s exciting research projects.
Details for the 2024 edition will be released soon. In the meantime, industry members can make plans to attend Indoor Ag-Con, March 11-12, 2024, as it returns to Caesars Forum, Las Vegas, to once again co-locate with the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show. For more information visit indoor.ag.
Virginia Tech-IALR CEA Innovation Center
The Virginia Tech-IALR CEA Innovation Center is a joint project between IALR and Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center. For more information visit www.ialr.org/cea