A Cornell team is leading a new project to investigate how Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) compares to conventional field agriculture in terms of energy, carbon and water footprints, profitability, workforce development and scalability. Strategic FEW (food, energy, water) and Workforce Investments to Enhance Viability of Controlled Environment Agriculture in Metropolitan Areas is funded by a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, through its new funding initiative called Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems.

The workforce development research, led by Professor Anu Rangarajan (Director, Small Farms Program), consisted in 2018 and early 2019 of interviews and an intensive two-day workshop with industry experts. During that workshop, a focus group of indoor farm operations managers produced this chart detailing the duties (responsibilities) and tasks (activities, skills) that describe their work.

"The current step in our research plan is to verify the details of this chart with peer growers worldwide via a survey", explains research associate Wythe Marschall. "It invites indoor farm managers to tell us how important each skill is, and how frequently it is conducted. The survey can be completed anonymously, or growers can provide us with their names and emails to receive a $25 Amazon gift card as a token of our appreciation."

To take this survey, register here. The Cornell team will send a survey link directly from Qualtrics. Respondents may provide their names and emails to receive a $25 Amazon gift card as a token of appreciation.

Online workshops
"We are also interested to ask growers if they would be interested in a series of upcoming online workshops to help us detail what specific, teachable steps (activities) are contained within each important skill needed by indoor farm operations managers", Wythe adds. "For example, we'll ask growers to dive into the specific skill, 'Manage crop fertigation (e.g., mixing nutrients, monitoring pH, monitoring water temp),' breaking this down into teachable, specific components.

"This series of workshops will be compensated, and we are beginning to schedule it now. Any CEA farm manager is invited to participate, regardless of location or modality."

For more information about this study regarding the future of the CEA workforce, please contact project lead Anu Rangarajan (ar47@cornell.edu) or research associate Wythe Marschall (wmarschall@fas.harvard.edu).