Controlled environment agriculture is becoming a common concept for growing crops and food production. Extreme weather concerns, environmental events, global warming, climate change, and conventional agricultural practices have raised huge concerns for feeding the communities and food security. Installing structures for controlled environment agriculture has thus become critically important to get maximum yield and quality.
As things finally return to normalcy in 2022, controlled environment agriculture will provide new horizons for food production and meeting nutritional needs across the globe thanks to new technologies, practices, software advancements, and more.
With so much happening in the industry, it’s a good time to take a step back and look at some of the biggest upcoming trends in controlled environment agriculture.
Low-Cost Cooling Technologies
One of the biggest priority for the CEA industry is to drive down costs and one of the best ways of doing so is through modern cooling technologies. These upcoming controlled environment agriculture designs are more cost-effective than the present designs and systems due to evaporative cooling, liquid desiccants, and other low-energy cooling technologies.
The combination of these systems with the seawater and saline evaporative cooling system helps to substitute the latent cooling by the use of liquid desiccant systems. These new sites will be dependent on the use of municipal wastewater and freshwater systems. Additionally, vacuum regeneration of desiccant will allow generating freshwater as a beneficial byproduct that in turn can be used for supporting crop production in the controlled environment agriculture.
Future controlled environment agriculture systems can also be used for desalination of local municipalities to supply contaminant-free fresh water both for human consumption and crop production. The use of seawater cooling and evaporative technologies is also a lower energy alternative and can be used for onsite desalination such as adsorption desalination and reverse osmosis for the provision of abundant freshwater by reducing the brine amount from the desalination process and without using a greater amount of energy.
Installation of infrared solar cells and light-harvesting solar technologies on the greenhouse surface is also a low-cost alternative for desalination and cooling technologies. Moreover, the harvested energy can also be used for system automation, wastewater reuse, brine treatment, and sustainable sourcing of nutrients for the growing plants.
Use of CEA Management Software
Crop management software have existed for a while but a new breed of advanced management and data processing software have recently entered the market. These new platforms are designed specifically for indoor farming and controlled environment agriculture, giving growers unprecedented control over their growing environment.
For instance, Redbud, a cross-platform, end-to-end, CEA management platform designed by scientists at the Ohio State University is helping growers streamline and automate every aspect of CEA – from crop and space planning to pest scouting, maintenance, predicting yield, and more. The low cost and easy-to-use nature of Redbud makes it easy to deploy and use on the field by non-tech users.
Carbon Capturing or Carbon Sequestering Technologies
Rising carbon levels are a major concern as elevated greenhouse gasses are greatly accelerating the process of climate change and global warming. The concept of carbon circular economy has gained the significant interest of scientific communities as it is related to capturing and capitalization on waste carbon that is lost to the environment and atmosphere. This carbon can be reused cyclically as algae and plants use carbon dioxide and solar energy for photosynthesis.
The process of capturing of carbon dioxide to biomass is expected to be a major trend in the CEA industry. Carbon capturing and reusing technologies in controlled environment agriculture will help combat climate change and significantly cut down the greenhouse gasses output of food production. Intensified controlled environment agricultural systems for higher biomass production in the marginal and degraded lands will contribute a huge role in sustaining crop production, food security, and environmental protection.
Defining Freshness in a New Way
The freshness of food and especially perishable fruits and vegetables is a major point of interest, and many supermarkets and sellers are maintaining an optimal environment in the stores to keep the harvest fresh for numerous days. However, biochemical changes still happen in this product, and loss of taste and quality is evident to some extent. The biggest trend for fresh food production in controlled environment agriculture is to sell freshly picked fruits and vegetables.
Constructing and maintaining controlled environment agriculture structures near the urban areas is a promising approach to selling fresh food. Growers can pick only a specific amount that is to be sold out on daily basis. Moreover, people can also visit controlled environment agriculture structures to get fresh food according to their requirements and preferences. Thus, the cost associated with the transportation, packaging, handling, and maintaining the right environment in the greenhouses will be reduced and locals can enjoy freshly harvested, good taste, better quality, and nutritionally rich food.
Automation in CEA
Automation in the controlled environment agriculture is inevitable as it offers improved control over management, production, and harvesting practices. The growers can optimize the inputs, aeration, temperature, humidity, and irrigation according to the type of crops being grown and the stages of growth and development. It is especially important for vertical farming in the controlled growing environment as vertical farming requires more labor than other kinds of farming systems and practices. Fully automated systems will also cut the costs associated with hiring staff for different areas of CEA.
The use of software systems such as Redbud SaaS enables growers to accurately predict growth and maturity stages and harvest the final produce without any compromise in the quality and quantity. Moreover, the optimization of nutrient application is also possible simply by getting an indication about deficiency and overdosage of applied fertilizers. So, the nutritional deficiencies and toxicities can be avoided to a greater extent. Thereby, growers can get more yield and profit by selling high-quality and nutrient-rich produce.
Floating Farming in Controlled Environment Agriculture
Finding sufficient space for controlled environment agriculture in the urban areas, and degraded lands is a major challenge for sustainable food production and distribution. Most growers are using space planning software to overcome this challenge. Another way to combat limited space is the use of a floating farming system in controlled environment agriculture.
Recently many organizations and research institutes have started using unused and abandoned areas for urban farming. These areas are excellent choices for floating farms and their proper use can improve food production by multiple times. We expected more of these unused and abandoned places to be used for CEA in the near future to the point of it becoming the norm.
Possibility of Using Salt Water for Controlled Environment Agriculture
In most cases, salt water can’t be used for agriculture and crop production practices but there is a huge potential to improve biomass production by using saltwater in controlled environment agriculture. Growing a combination of fresh water and salt-tolerant cultivars is also a good alternative for balancing the supplies of feed and food production both for human beings and animals. Integration of algal photobioreactors and hydroponics systems for higher plants can also play a significant role in sustainable biomass generation continually.
Algal biomass is being used in cosmetics, bioplastics, animal feed, and aquaculture. It can also be used as an environmentally friendly alternative for the important oils extracted from plants. Algal cultivation in controlled environment agriculture can be a sustainable source for biobased industries because it can consistently provide biomass at significantly higher turnover rates. Intensified algal cultivation can minimize the global impact of using synthetic chemicals and inputs for farming systems. This trend is not being used at an accelerated rate but its right use and implementation will be helpful for sustainable food and feed production in the near future.
Controlled environment agriculture is an exciting new field with new inventions and discoveries every other day. This article is a recap of some of the past innovations that are on track to become major trends in the industry.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can make the most of your controlled environment agriculture company or indoor farm, get in touch with the experts at Redbud for a free demo today.