Feb 2, 2023
Universities, Companies Team Up on CEA StudySource: Tom Trush, Hort Americas

Commercial horticultural supplier Hort Americas has joined The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES); Rutgers University; Cornell University; the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Ag Center (CEAC); and Koidra on a research and development project designed to help greenhouse growers create the most ideal growing environment using real-time data and climate-optimization processes.

The collaboration is part of a $3.77 million grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to study controlled environment agriculture (CEA), a process that extends growing seasons, reduces waste, and yields more crops that are higher in quality. This is done by controlling environmental factors such as temperature, light and nutrients.

CFAES will spearhead the four-year study with collaboration from Rutgers, Cornell, University of Arizona, Hort Americas and Koidra, a company specializing in tools that help greenhouse and indoor growers manage crops using data and technologies such as sensors, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

Stakeholders get together for their first meeting in Columbus, Ohio, in January 2023.

Chieri Kubota, a CFAES professor of horticulture and crop science will lead the project with A.J. Both, professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers University.

Guil Signorini, assistant professor of production management and marketing of specialty crops at CFAES, and Chris Higgins, Hort Americas president, will work together to map decision-making processes for adopting greenhouse technologies. This includes examining the economic feasibility of the advanced greenhouse technologies, as well as communicating with growers and key industry stakeholders to ensure research is relevant, timely and cost effective.

“For AdvanCEA to be successful, it is extremely important that we get information and feedback from North American growers needing, wanting and investing in the technology being researched,” Higgins said. “Our biggest mistake would be spending time and energy on technology that does not add value to the grower community. This means growers must be able to afford the tech, which should either make them more efficient, improve yield or save them money (i.e., improve profits). It’s vitally important that we get input from the grower community to be sure we can deliver on those metrics.”

“This grant will help us pioneer controlled environment agriculture in the United States,” said Kubota, who also is the director of the Ohio Controlled Agriculture Center (OHCEAC). “Currently, domestic growers rely on technologies developed primarily in the Netherlands, which adheres to different design standards, measurement units, and government regulations, thus causing delays in the adaptation of new technologies in the United States.”

The study will focus on the following areas of agtech development:

  • Develop a data- and model-driven decision-making platform.
  • Validate the efficacy of new data- and model-driven decision making.
  • Understand the socioeconomics of greenhouse technology adaptation.
  • Engage stakeholders through professional learning opportunities for workforce development.

CFAES will conduct research in the new, state-of-the-art Controlled Environment Agriculture Research Complex (CEARC), a one-of-a-kind greenhouse that will be at the forefront of controlled environment food production research. The greenhouse is part of CFAES’ Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory, a unique facility that serves as a university hub for teaching, research and community engagement.

The CEA project is one of 25 grants awarded by the USDA to address key challenges of national, regional, and multistate importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems.

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