Facilities & Technology

Convening industry, academia and producers, the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center is housed primarily within a modern greenhouse complex on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville, Va. Features include various hydroponic and soilless systems/production systems, which grow plants in a soilless root medium with optimal amounts of water and nutrients. Vertical growing racks maximize space, and high-tech engineering and technology are integrated and on display throughout the center. High-value demonstration crops will include lettuce, herbs, strawberry, blackberry, hemp and more.

Faculty and staff involved in the center will also research and educate on raising fish in controlled environments using aquaponics, or recirculating aquaculture systems that integrate plant and fish production. While traditionally viewed as separate fields, plant and fish production share many similar technologies, issues and needs.

IALR lab support includes a state-of-the-art analytical chemistry facility featuring three liquid chromatographs, a gas chromatograph, and an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer for heavy metal analysis. Just some of the biological capabilities span microbiology, molecular biology, including next generation sequencing, and plant tissue culture capabilities.

INNOVATION CENTER TEAM

The Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center leverages the talents and expertise of professional scientists from both IALR as well as Virginia Tech.

SCOTT LOWMAN, PH.D.

Co-Director, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center
Vice President, Applied Research, Institute for Advanced Learning and Research

Scott.Lowman@ialr.org
OFFICE: 434.766.6628

Dr. Scott Lowman is the Vice President of Applied Research at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville, Virginia. Prior to joining IALR, Dr. Lowman co-founded Lynchburg Grows, a 7-acre urban farm and job training facility in Lynchburg, Virginia. In his current position, he leads a research program focused on integrating biological solutions and technology into agriculture while also supporting industry and producers by providing testing services for new and existing industry. 

Dr. Scott Lowman

MICHAEL EVANS, PH.D.

Co-Director, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center
Director, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Mrevans1@vt.edu
OFFICE: 540.231.8653

Dr. Michael Evans is the Director of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech and the Associate Director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center. He specializes in the production of greens, herbs, strawberries and micro-tomatoes in controlled environments such as greenhouses and indoor vertical farms. Dr. Evans’ research is focused on techniques to maximize economic returns by reducing cropping time and maximizing yields as well as on pest management.

MICHAEL SCHWARZ, PH.D.

Associate Director, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center
Director, Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Virginia Tech

mschwarz@vt.edu
OFFICE: 757.727.4861

Dr. Michael Schwarz is Director of the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Associate Director of the Virginia Tech Center for Coastal Studies, and Associate Director for the Controlled Environmental Agriculture Innovation Center, among other leadership roles. Dr. Schwarz has gubernatorial appointments in both the Virginia Marine Products Board, as well as the Virginia Aquaculture Advisory Board. His aquaculture activities work towards sustainable socioeconomic and environmental aquaculture development within geopolitical contexts. 

Michael Schwarz, Virginia Seafood AREC

Kaylee south, ph.d.

Assistant Professor of Controlled Environment Agriculture, Virginia Tech

Kaylee.South@ialr.org
OFFICE: 434.766.6618

Dr. Kaylee South is an Assistant Professor from Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences based in Danville at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). Dr. South joined as a member of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center at the end of 2021. Her research is on the improvement of crop performance in indoor vertical farms and greenhouses and specializes in using beneficial microbes to improve overall crop health and quality. Dr. South also holds an extension appointment where she will collaborate with the Virginia controlled environment agriculture industry to identify and solve problems, as well as share research-based information through various avenues. In her role, Dr. South will advise graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Her past research experience includes improving greenhouse production of floriculture crops through the application of beneficial bacteria for both biocontrol of plant pathogens and improving nutrient uptake. Before her role at Virginia Tech, she completed a B.S. in Horticulture at the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in Horticulture and Crop Science at The Ohio State University.

AMY TURNER

Laboratory Research Associate, Institute for Advanced Learning and Research

Amy.Turner@ialr.org
OFFICE: 434.766.6788

Amy Turner has over 25 years of experience in the field of agriculture research. Prior to joining IALR, Turner worked with N.C. State University in Crop Stress Physiology and Clemson University in Turfgrass Pathology. In 2011, she served as Plant Propagation Laboratory Manager of the Dan River Plant Propagation Center. After joining the IALR Applied Research team in 2014, she was cross trained to assist in the IALR Advanced Materials Program by attending courses at the Charlotte, N.C., Polymers Center of Excellence. Since 2018, Turner has focused full time on assisting with expanding and building IALR’s endophyte library, as well as testing those microbes identified as beneficial to plant growth. Her areas of work have included acquisition of plant material for isolation of plant endophytic bacteria, assisting with IALR’s endophytic bacteria screening process and evaluation of microbes selected for testing in the greenhouse, growth chamber and controlled environment agriculture systems. Turner is an instrumental part of IALR’s efforts to aid industry in the field of biological product development research, conducting contract research projects to test biological product efficacy in various crops. As part of the CEA Innovation Center team, she incorporates hydroponics into the services offered to outside parties seeking to test biocontrol products. 

Amy Turner