Governor Glenn Youngkin proclaimed March as Virginia Controlled Environment Agriculture Month to highlight the importance and impact of next generation agriculture to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) utilizes innovations in technology in various growing methods such as hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, and fogponics. These methods are used to grow produce in a variety of settings to include indoor farming, vertical farming, greenhouses, and protected cropping environments. Officials will recognize the CEA month by visiting operations around the state.
CEAs are helping to bolster Virginia’s agricultural industry and position the Commonwealth as a leader in next generation agriculture. Virginia has become the destination of choice for CEA operations to locate and expand, due to strategic access to domestic consumer markets, plentiful and competitively priced resources, a skilled workforce pipeline, and the availability of public and private partnerships. During the past year, the Commonwealth partnered with private sector innovators including Beanstalk Farms, Aerofarms, and Plenty Unlimited as they expanded, opened, and launched new CEA operations.
“As consumer demand for safe, sustainable, and locally grown food increases, Virginia provides the ideal home for indoor farming companies. Recent CEA economic development announcements are clear indications of the advantages that make the Commonwealth the best location in the nation for companies growing our food safely and sustainably,” said Governor Youngkin. “I am thrilled Virginia is playing a leading role in the indoor farming revolution that is changing where much of our food is coming from.”
“Indoor farming is employing new and efficient technologies that make local, sustainable produce available to more communities,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr. “The increasing number of indoor farming operations locating in Virginia is proving to be a catalyst for capital investment and a source of jobs in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the Commonwealth.”
CEA controls certain aspects of the growing environment to boost yields, promote sustainability, and reduce pests and disease pressure, while increasing efficiencies and providing for year-round growth of crops. Growing plants in an ideal environment allows for a high-quality, consistent product with more harvests when compared to outdoor conventional farming methods.
“The growing number of CEAs in the Commonwealth allows local retailers to become less dependent on bringing leafy greens and other produce items from other parts of the country. This helps reduce transportation cost and transport related emissions, while enhancing food safety, security, sustainability and building local economies,” said Joseph Guthrie, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
An important element in attracting CEA operations to the Commonwealth is the skilled talent pool. Virginia State University and Virginia Tech, the state’s two land grant universities, are conducting research and educational programming to develop and prepare students for a career in CEAs. The Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center (CEA-IC) is a joint project between Virginia Tech and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. The CEA-IC features aquaponics, various hydroponic, and soilless systems/production systems and facilities, to include indoor growth rooms, greenhouses, growth chambers and vertical growing racks.