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.
The partnership will bring together industry, academia and producers to create an advanced Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center as a demonstration site and agricultural technology training center. 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 will use data management, sensors and vertical structures to ensure ideal distribution of water, energy, capital and labor. Plus, strict entry protocols will 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.
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.
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.
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.