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.

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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.

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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.

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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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"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 excited to partner with Virginia Tech, a fellow champion of cutting-edge innovation, to expand the impact of agriculture in promising new ways. While agriculture is a longtime industry of Southern Virginia, economic factors have demanded a new identity. We believe controlled environment agriculture is one of the defining…"
Mark Gignac / 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