The Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center is a joint project between Virginia Tech and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). By developing strategic partnerships with both industry and academia, the goal of the Innovation Center is to conduct research and educational programming to develop, promote and advance the controlled environment agriculture sector in the U.S. and internationally.

A demonstration site and agricultural technology training center, the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center brings together industry, academia and producers. The overall goal centers on diversifying agribusiness in Southern Virginia as well as increasing net farm income and profitability for both existing and new farmers.

Benefits of Controlled Environment Agriculture

Controlled environmental agriculture helps protect plants from disease and stress while providing ideal growing conditions for high-quality, quick-to-harvest food products – sometimes in as fast as two weeks depending on the crop. In addition to hydroponic and soilless systems/production systems, the Innovation Center utilizes data management, sensors and vertical structures to ensure ideal distribution of water, energy, capital and labor. Plus, strict entry protocols prevent pests. Together these factors result in a high-quality, consistent product with significantly more harvests than outdoor conventional production methods. Other advantages of controlled environmental agriculture include uniform, year-round production, potentially pesticide-free agriculture and greatly reduced land and water requirements.

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CEA Summit East

Building alliances, sharing information and forging new connections were key themes that drove the 2023, edition of the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Summit East held at IALR and co-hosted by Indoor Ag-Con and the Virginia Tech-IALR CEA Innovation Center. 

The 2nd annual edition attracted 240 attendees from 33 U.S. states, Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden, including growers, educators, scientists, Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists, suppliers, engineers, tech specialists, architects/developers and other industry members.

“The CEA Summit exemplifies the collaborative spirit that defines our mission. It’s rewarding to see industry leaders from all sectors of CEA convene here to share lessons learned, best practices, research findings and ways to help accelerate our collective growth.”Scott Lowman, Co-Director, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center and Vice President, Applied Research, IALR.


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“The Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Innovation Center is a collaboration between Virginia Tech and IALR and we are focused on moving the CEA industry forward through research, educational programs, and industry support. We take pride in being able to bridge academia and business,” said Scott Lowman, Vice President, Applied Research at IALR.

technology & team

Housed primarily within a modern indoor agricultural complex on the campus of IALR in Danville, Va., the center features various hydroponic and soilless systems/production systems and facilities including indoor growth rooms, greenhouses, growth chambers and vertical growing racks. High-tech engineering fuels innovative research, and demonstration crops include lettuce, herbs, strawberry, blackberry, hemp and more. Aquaponics, analytical chemistry and biotechnology are also utilized.


CEA in the News

The work of the VT-IALR CEA Innovation Center is making headlines around the world. Check out some press coverage regarding IALR’s role in the CEA industry in Virginia and beyond. 

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Current Research

Scientists use various types of controlled environment facilities and systems to conduct research on high-value crops. Researchers measure the benefits and impact of indoor growth and innovative technology. They also explore sensors, water quality, light quality, energy usage, disease management and beneficial endophytes in relation to controlled environment agriculture. Aquaponics also allows research on potential domestic seafood production opportunities.


Educational Materials

In addition to research, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center scientists design and provide educational activities to train employees, farmers and companies on controlled environment technologies and crop production. Educational programming includes hands-on workshops, conferences, webinars and instructional videos to support entities interested in entering controlled environment agriculture production and research.

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"We have been working with IALR through the many growth stages of our company and could not have asked for better partners along the way. IALR's state of the art facilities and talented scientific team have helped us take our RNA technologies from lab to field."
Ameer Shakeel, Founder, CTO / AgroSpheres
"Through this new programming and leveraging of expertise and infrastructure, we have the opportunity to drastically increase domestic seafood and produce production within the state, region, and country, enhancing food safety, security, sustainability, and most importantly, socioeconomically within our agriculture economies."
Michael Schwarz / Virginia Tech Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center
"We are excited to house this facility on the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research’s campus and to benefit from both the technology developed and the associated economic development opportunities it provides for the region. Consumer demand for healthy, local and pesticide-free produce is high, and will continue to increase…"
Scott Lowman, Ph.D / Institute for Advanced Learning and Research
"We are delighted that the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have combined their expertise to create a top program in controlled environment agriculture. This collaborative effort is creating tremendous energy and excitement because of its potential to provide innovative solutions…"
Alan Grant / Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences