Controlled Environment Agriculture – Trends, Risks, Impacts

Sunday, January 27, 2019 - 2:15 pm to 3:15 pm

red tomatoes on a vine in a greenhouse

Workshop Description

The face of local and organic food is changing, as new technologies for high-production agriculture enter the marketplace.

Interest in aquaponics, hydroponics, and Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is growing rapidly, but not all of these systems meet the criteria for organic certification.

Drawing from his experience in aquaponics and urban agriculture through WaterFarmers, Evan will explain how each of these technologies works, and how they are integrating within the food system.

For existing and potential producers, adopting these new technologies is tempting. However, without realistic business planning and background knowledge and skills, investing thousands of dollars into infrastructure before any produce is sold can lead to an early demise.

A variety of hardware and software is currently available that can help producers optimize their existing businesses, without requiring the capital investment of a CEA system.

To conclude the presentation, Evan will present some of these low-cost improvements, and best practices for those that do chose to use non-soil-based agriculture.

Topics covered will include:

  • Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) – current industry trends, including case studies of some high-profile indoor agriculture operations, and their association with the organic industry.
  • Following an overview of the main production systems now used at commercial scale (aquaponics, hydroponics, microgreens, mushrooms, etc), Evan will explain the risks of obsessing over new technologies.
  • More money was invested in vertical farming technology in 2017 than ever (>$200 million for a single company, Plenty. Largest ag tech investment ever)
  • What does this mean for the organic farmers of Ontario and Canada? Is this a sector to compete with, partner with, or ignore?
  • Discuss a number of ‘hyped’ technology platforms and systems, including container farms, tower farms, hydroponics, aquaponics and more. Discuss pros, cons and where they may make sense.
  • Sustainability aspect of these farms, does it make sense to build big ‘food factories’, cram them with LEDs just to grow lettuce?
  • Where I see this market moving in the next 5-10 years.
  • Aquaponics, hydroponics, and organic certification – current status of legislation and eligibility for certification in the USA and Canada. Additional detail on the contentious aspects of these production systems in regards to organic certification will be discussed.
  • Best practices for new businesses – for those interested in producing food through any of the aforementioned technologies, Evan will present some business models and common pitfalls to avoid.

Speaker: Evan Bell

Evan has worked with organic vegetable, aquaculture and mushroom farms in Ontario and abroad, including hands-on labour and management support.

He led the development of a crop planning and sales tracking system for a farm in Jamaica, and has designed commercial mushroom facilities.

Through WaterFarmers, he has experienced the surge of interest in aquaponics, vertical farming, and other forms of urban agriculture.

He is passionate about bringing systems-level change to the world’s food security problems, and stays up-do-date on research and legislation related to organic certification of aquaponics and other food production systems.