The world of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is experiencing rapid evolution. The quest for increased efficiency and sustainable practices is at the forefront of these advancements.
Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Derek Smith, the Executive Director at Resource Innovation Institute (Website), to shed some light on this journey. Here’s what we learned:
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Resource Innovation Institute (RII) is a non-profit organization that promotes sustainability and efficiency in agriculture, particularly in controlled environment agriculture. RII collaborates with various stakeholders to advance energy efficiency, water circularity, and decarbonization. Initially focused on the cannabis industry, RII established benchmarking platforms and encouraged stakeholder collaboration to identify best practices. Over time, their scope expanded to cover a wider range of crops grown in controlled environments. In 2020, RII received a Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA to further its work in transforming the CEA industry through data-driven strategies and collaboration with partners such as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
The Quest For Efficiency
Efficiency is considered a critical aspect of indoor vertical farming. According to Smith, some operators of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) are already leading the way in terms of energy and water efficiency. As peer-reviewed best practices are being published, more and more operators are adopting these efficiency techniques. This trend is encouraging, given the world’s growing food demands and the need for sustainable solutions. By utilizing technology and best practices, indoor vertical farming can increase yields and reduce resource consumption, making it a significant step towards a greener future.
Despite facing criticism for carbon emissions, Smith emphasizes the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to evaluating environmental impacts. As Smith points out, the CEA sector needs to explain how it sources stages such as pack houses so that comparisons with traditional farming practices can be better understood by various stakeholders. Transparency and accountability are crucial in this regard, as they ensure that the environmental benefits of indoor vertical farming, such as reduced land usage and the potential for clean energy sources, are fully recognized. This nuanced approach to carbon emissions is a step towards a more balanced view of the industry’s environmental impact.
A Case-By-Case Basis
Indoor vertical farming is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Regional characteristics play a significant role in determining the success of an operation and its business model. Derek Smith confirmed that “CFA operators, investors, and real estate actors” increasingly consider local variables. This regional adaptability is a testament to the industry’s commitment to sustainability and efficiency.
The diversity of crops in indoor vertical farming is another area of interest. While leafy greens have been a staple, the industry continues to expand its crop varieties. Smith stated, “Our role will be establishing benchmarks at crop and regional levels to guide the sector’s ongoing efficiency journey.” This adaptability and willingness to explore new crops align with the industry’s commitment to providing a variety of fresh, locally sourced produce year-round.
So, what does the future hold for indoor vertical farming?
According to Derek Smith, transparency and collaboration are rising, enabling better benchmarking and validating the industry’s environmental value. This partnership between the public and private sectors is crucial for scaling indoor vertical farming, addressing regional needs, and advancing food security while maintaining resilience.
Indoor vertical farming is more than just a trend; it’s a resilient solution to many challenges facing traditional agriculture. Derek Smith’s insights from the Resource Innovation Institute affirm that this industry is evolving and maturing. As it does, it brings us closer to a greener, more resilient food future.