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Controlled environment ag (CEA) program takes root at Texas A&M's AgriLife
AgTech Controlled Environment Agriculture Education

Texas A&M’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Program Takes Root

The rapidly evolving field of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) has taken root in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This field, which includes hydroponics, vertical farming, and aquaponics under protected greenhouses and indoor structures, is a rapidly advancing field with a lot of potential for growth.

Dr. Shuyang Zhen, a professor for controlled environment horticulture, runs a new CEA program that finished its initial course covering the basics of hydroponics last fall. The course is now open for enrollment next fall’s semester. According to Dr. Zhen, CEA is a new path for students searching for post-graduation employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in horticulture. The program is creating professionals with skills that span the technical and agricultural knowledge necessary to grow crops within controlled environment systems.

The industry is growing through support by investors and federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NASA. Similarly, the industry incorporates an array of mediums, including hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, and vertical farming under artificial lighting to produce food in limited space and under controlled environments. CEA is viewed as an ideal way to produce food efficiently and sustainably in urbanized areas.

The field is also incorporating advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics, Dr. Zhen said. Professionals entering the CEA field are likely to work as crop managers or skilled technicians more so than traditional farmers or laborers. “There is a lot of momentum behind controlled environment agriculture globally,” she said. “It is still a budding industry, but there is an incredible amount of venture capital and government investment. Controlled environment production is a way for agriculture to sustain our food chain and address concerns like food deserts, food safety, and nutrition.”

Dr. Amit Dhingra, head of the Department of Horticultural Sciences, said CEA will play an important role in providing sustainable, secure, and nutritious food in the future. The CEA program’s mission is to prepare the department’s students for that future. Agricultural sustainability includes the efficient use of resources like water and reducing the negative impacts of production on the environment, but it also requires methods to be financially sound for producers, Dr. Dhingra said.

Overall, the controlled environment agriculture program at Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is at the forefront of the horticulture industry and is preparing students for the future of sustainable and efficient food production.

Photo by Dani California on Unsplash

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