The Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center is now fully operational and open for research, industry collaboration and outreach on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). A partnership with Virginia Tech (VT), the Center’s staff will develop, promote and advance the indoor farming market in the U.S. and worldwide.
The Center aligns with IALR’s mission of economic transformation by introducing an alternative farming method to area growers while serving as a research collaborator for indoor farming industry partners like AeroFarms, which recently broke ground in Danville (p. 4). The Center capitalizes on IALR’s expertise in applied research, education and talent development, advanced manufacturing, conferencing services and economic development. “The ultimate goal of the Center is economic development,” said Dr. Scott Lowman, IALR’s Director of Applied Research and Director of the Center. “As part of Virginia Tech’s SmartFarm Innovation Network, our team will strive to innovate indoor farming technology and to introduce it as a new high-tech industry in Southern Virginia.”
The Center uses hydroponic systems to deliver ideal amounts of water and nutrients for maximized plant growth and health. Lighting and other factors are controlled for optimal growth as well. Benefits include higher, quicker yield in a smaller space, unrestrictive growing locations and times, and healthier locally sourced food grown without chemicals.
Research will aim to benefit growers and the industry. Some experiments already being conducted include: growth rate studies of microgreens, microbeets and baby leaf lettuce inoculated with beneficial plant bacteria, or endophytes; LED light level studies with microtomatoes; and seeding density studies with baby leaf lettuce.
Center Associate Directors, VT’s Dr. Michael Evans (School of Plant and Environmental Sciences) and Dr. Michael Schwarz (Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center), help steer the Center’s initiatives. VT Research Associate Dr. Emily Zhou oversees operations in collaboration with IALR staff, including Chief Scientist Dr. Chuansheng Mei and Laboratory Research Associate Amy Turner. The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission is also a supporter.
Future projects will include integration of aquaculture, educational outreach, expanded research, and opportunities for workforce development. For more information and to view a video, visit ialr.org/cea.