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US: "We have less farmland to grow on, and we have to conserve our resources"

"The challenges that I faced; were the need to grow more, while using less the need to produce food consistently, all year round the need to grow more food closer to the point of consumption and the need to limit any environmental impacts from my production, are all the same challenges facing agriculture and society as a whole today," says Joe Swartz, Vice President of AmHydro. In 1984, Joe built his first greenhouse and has never looked back.

On Friday, February 16th, Joe traveled to Washington DC to speak about CEA at the USDA's 100th annual "World Agricultural Outlook Forum. The event 'Cultivating the Future' was heavily attended by guests from across the USA and around the world. The focus was on the USDA's efforts to strengthen existing and develop future sustainable food systems. To that end, they invited CEA expert and Vice President of AmHydro, Joe Swartz, to speak with the audience about how CEA technologies have enhanced global food production (including on his farm) for over 4 decades.

Lessons from the past
Joe opened his talk by detailing his journey in CEA. As a young man, growing up on a small family farm in Western Massachusetts, he saw firsthand the many challenges of small-scale agriculture. Faced with the daunting task of taking over the family's farm at an early age, he was forced to make some changes. His desire to grow year-round in a region that had a short growing season, to grow without using chemical pesticides, and to produce premium quality crops while conserving precious fresh water, led him to hydroponics to augment his farming operation.

Joe Swartz at the USDA event

Technologies of the present and future
For the next 20 years, Joe operated his farm, growing greens and vegetables both in the field and in the greenhouse. However, he was engaged more and more by people looking for guidance and information as to how they could employ the same technologies themselves. Since the farm was his only source of income, he was constantly forced to focus on techniques that featured high productivity with positive economics.

As he told the crowd, "This wasn't about technology per se, it was about choosing the correct tools to farm successfully." While Joe constantly innovated and tried nearly every CEA technology imaginable, he was always brought back to techniques and equipment that produced real, tangible results. Ever since that time, this has been his guiding philosophy. His journey continued to a successful consultancy practice and finally to his role as Vice President of AmHydro, a leading CEA technology company.

Joe then walked the crowd through numerous examples of CEA. Which approached provided good results, and which ones did not? He also explained the reasons for the successes and failures and how that directly correlated with sound agricultural practices – not just in the grow room or the greenhouse, but also in the field. He also highlighted many different growing operations and how they used CEA for very specific purposes – whether commercial farming, urban agriculture, education, research, or job training, all we successful due to faithful adherence to horticultural and economic principles. Following this philosophy, AmHydro currently has successful installations in 105 countries around the world.

Maintaining that "this is still farming," he pointed out, "We can use CEA to solve many of the problems facing both agriculture and society in general: We have more mouths to feed, we have less farmland to grow on, and we have to conserve our resources and protect the environment. CEA allows us to do all of those." He illustrated a clear path as to how CEA is to become an increasingly important part of the food production puzzle. "No matter where, no matter the size, CEA is just part of our efforts to both feed and protect our planet today and for the future."

For more information:
Joe Swartz, Vice President

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