New connections and collaboration were clear themes that emerged from the October 25-26, 2022 debut edition of the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA Summit East) Summit East held at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville, VA. Co-hosted by Indoor Ag-Con and the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center (a joint project between the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech, Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech and the IALR), the new event attracted 200 + attendees from 28 states plus Puerto Rico and Canada, including growers, educators, scientists, extension specialists, suppliers, engineers, tech specialists, architect/developers and other industry members.
During the day and one-half event, attendees enjoyed quality time to meet, network and learn during keynotes, panels and breakout conference sessions; explore 17 tabletop exhibits presenting the latest innovations and services; and enjoy a host of networking opportunities.
“We are so pleased with the results of this first edition and our partnership with the CEA Innovation Center,” says Brian Sullivan, CEO, Indoor Ag-Con. “Both organizations saw a tremendous opportunity to create a different kind of event for this industry –bringing a concentrated sector of business and academic audiences together in an incredible research facility setting that fostered an environment for sharing ideas and opportunities. From the feedback we’ve heard from our attendees and exhibitors alike, we delivered.”
“This event really crystalized our vision of bringing our research and education program together to help move the CEA industry forward,” added Dr. Scott Lowman, Co-Director, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center and Vice President, Applied Research, IALR.
“An exciting thing about this conference is that it brought people from all over the United States together to share ideas and goals, which always feeds your own ideas,” said Dr. Michael Evans, Co-Director, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center and Director, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”
Among the many highlights of the new event included:
Morning Kick-Off Keynotes
AeroFarms CTO Roger Buelow kicked off opening morning with a keynote sharing more about the newly opened AeroFarms Danville, the world’s largest aeroponic smart farm, capable of growing more than 3 million pounds of fresh leafy greens annually. On day two, Matthew Lohr, Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, got the day started sharing the state’s focus and goals for growth of the CEA industry. “It comes down to collaboration – with the whole Commonwealth working together. We’ve made progress, and I’m even more excited about what the future of farming looks like,” he said, echoing the core theme of the conference.
The CEA Summit East featured 3 educational tracks – CEA Skills, Business Tips & Regulation, and Teaching, Extension, Workforce Development – that brought academics, growers and business experts together covering a wide range of topics from finding funding and selecting technologies for CEA operations to food safety, sustainability aquaponics and ways to work with the land grant university extension system. A special panel discussion titled “Building the Future of CEA” 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.
“We worked to create a conference program that offered something for everyone,” explains Dr. Kaylee South, Assistant Professor of Controlled Environment Agriculture, Virginia Tech. “It was rewarding to see how engaged our audience members were in the question and answer segments of all of our sessions.”
Tabletop Exhibits & Networking
In addition to conference sessions, attendees had ample opportunities to visit with the Summit’s 17 tabletop exhibitors during coffee breaks, luncheon roundtables and an afternoon cocktail reception.
CEA Innovation Center Tour
The event wrapped up with group tours of the CEA Innovation Center. 60+ conference attendees took advantage of the unique opportunity to get an inside look at the CEA Innovation Center’s hydroponic and soilless systems/production systems and facilities, including indoor growth rooms, greenhouse, growth chambers and vertical growing racks. They also got to hear more about some of the Center’s exciting research projects.
Look for more information coming soon on dates and details for the 2023 edition. In the meantime, industry members can also make plans to attend the 10th Annual Indoor Ag-Con, February 27-28, 2023 as it returns to Caesars Forum, Las Vegas to once again co-locate with the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show.
Image provided by Indoor Ag-Con, CEA Summit East