Will CEA need frontier crops to diversify?

Jon Greene, Senior Technical Specialist at Bluelab, talked with Joseph Chidiac (JC), CEO and Horticultural Engineer of CultiBio, on CEA needing frontier crops to diversify during Bluelab's Future of Controlled Agriculture webinar series. 

Jon and JC refer to frontier CEA crops, by which they mean crops beyond the traditional leafy greens and herbs. Think broccoli, root vegetables, goji berries, wasabi, and even bananas that can now be grown locally using hydroponics, thanks to recent technology improvements. 

The opportunity lies in new techniques and crop varieties
Growing crops in the 21st century is a unique challenge, yet an unprecedented opportunity. The combined power of nature and human ingenuity elevates the standard of growing with systems that create efficiencies, productivity, and a more sustainable way of growing.

“The main effect is that you're reducing food miles. So, you're reducing the need for a lot of this bulk produce to be transported that far, and I think that's very positive," said Joseph Chidiac, CEO and Horticultural Engineer, at CultiBio.

Jon supports this sentiment, and uses the example of how urban farm and restaurant Grow + Gather in Colorado has successfully used CEA to create a thriving business and reduce food miles. "The owner Jeff Johnston retrofitted an older 1950's auto repair shop into an urban farm and restaurant, complete with gardens, a greenhouse, and a vertical farm. His indoor hydroponic towers represent 1,200 square feet or 111.5 square meters of cultivation space. The towers alone equate to 1.8 or maybe two acres of field farming and eliminate countless food miles." 

The shift beyond lettuce and herbs is already happening 
JC outlines that there is significant progress being made in reducing food miles and highlights some key milestones in CEA.

  • More farms are popping up in the US and Canada to reduce the need for transport and reduce greenhouse gases.
  • In Holland and Iceland, we are seeing greenhouses growing bananas. Transport costs are cut and there are smart schemes available where people are using cogeneration and taking advantage of steam.
  • Europe is growing papayas, spinach, and arugula, which are typically imported. With movements to CEA in Europe mean crops such as apples, almonds, cherries (which are susceptible to diseases that require a lot of pesticides and fungicides) will have those inputs eliminated.
  • The Caribbean is growing cilantro and cold-weather crops.
  • China has more traditional orchards transitioning to CEA.
  • As root crops increase in price, it is going to be a viable option to produce these vegetables locally. Broccoli and cabbage grow really well in hydroponics. Although they take up space, it will inevitably get to the point where this is a more viable option that will outweigh the space and effort involved versus transporting these crops.

Download the full conversation here.

Read the complete article at www.blog.bluelab.com.

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