The world’s population is expected to grow to 9.9 billion by 2050, according to the 2020 World Population Data Sheet.
As the population grows, so is the demand for food. But is it possible to meet this demand sustainably?
Farmers are responding by adopting more advanced farming techniques. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is one of the techniques that have emerged, and it’s coming in many forms. From hydroponics and aquaponics to aeroponics, aquaculture, vertical farming, and fogponics, CEA is taking the world by storm.
Researchers expect the global controlled environment agriculture market to reach $172 billion in 2025. Already, CEA is spurring innovation and demonstrating the viability and feasibility of controlled growing.
And what are the benefits?
All-year growing. Reduced reliance on chemicals and manual labor. Less water usage and land requirements. These are some of the top benefits.
CEA is increasingly becoming a significant part of our evolving food and crop production systems. Farmers can use controlled environment agriculture together with outdoor production to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change while helping solve crop production challenges.
But what does the future hold for CEA?
1. CEA and the growth of more sustainable urban agriculture
Today, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Most of the people in the urban areas are demanding locally grown food – they want to know where their food comes from, how it’s made, and by whom.
It’s all about traceability and transparency.
Urbanization is essentially accelerating the growth of urban agriculture, a concept that was unheard of not so long ago.
CEA is making urban agriculture a reality, one that is rooted in sustainable practices as well. With a focus on vertical farming, farmers will continue establishing productive farms in urban settings, all the while cutting things such as high water use and transporting crop products over long distances. CEA will also promote more sustainable urban agriculture by improving product quality, thanks to the shorter supply chains.
More goodness, more freshness
Fresh produce is not always easy to come by.
Not only are extreme weather conditions and the resource intensiveness of crop production making it harder to produce crops in the outdoors, but there are often geographic constraints that mean produce has to travel long distances from farm to consumer.
These supply challenges mean that there’s a systemic lack of high-quality products that reach consumers at affordable prices.
However, with controlled environment agriculture, farmers can have some production consistency. They will increasingly be able to offer the freshest food all year round, for a fraction of the cost of imports. Local production will continue to help save millions of food miles, minimize food waste by both retailers and consumerism, and improve food safety.
2. More local production for improved supply chains
Not only is CEA making supply chains shorter, but it’s likely going to make them more resilient and trustworthy.
For example, CEA is helping smaller farm operations regain traction. Where these operations have been declining over the years due to the inability to compete with commercial operations (thanks big budgets!), CEA will help them make a comeback.
The growing demand for local is giving smaller farms a leg up in the agriculture sector, allowing them to increase their bottom line by focusing on what consumers want – product quality and freshness.
3. CEA and more differentiated, quality products
Controlled environment agriculture is going to usher in a wave of more differentiated, quality products.
Currently, there’s not much variability in the food we consume. Here are some stats for context.
75% of the world’s food comes from five animal and 12 plant species. We use only 150 to 200 of at least 30,000 known edible plant species. Nearly half of our plant-derived calories are from just three crops – rice, corn and wheat.
Furthermore, farmers are breeding many crops for disease resistance and long storage, at the expense of robust flavors and nutritional value.
CEA promises to increase the diversity of produce. For example, seeds are now being bred for various characteristics such as nutrient density, flavor, and ripening capabilities – a move that will expose consumers to an increasing number of differentiated products.
4. More efficient solutions
Going forward, there will likely be more efficient crop production solutions that will enable CEA to compete with, or be better than outdoor production.
Historically, CEA growing has mainly been characterized by high investment costs (e.g. for equipment such as indoor growing HVAC systems) and high operating costs (e.g. the costs of energy, labor and product inputs).
However, increased research into viable CEA techniques, improved grow systems, increased production efficiency, and optimization of CEA facility productivity should all help drive costs down. Put simply, CEA should be in a better position to compete with outdoor growing as the industry matures and efficient solutions become more widely available at a lower cost.
Related Reading: 9 Cost-Saving Strategies For Commercial Cannabis Grows.
5. More innovation and variety
To date, a limited number of plants have been doing well in a controlled environment setting. We’re talking about fresh herbs, leafy greens, and crops such as cannabis, tomatoes and peppers.
Nonetheless, it’s probably only a matter of time before this list grows.
An increasing number of farmers are working on increasing the number of CEA offerings on the market. It will likely not be long before we start seeing more crops, fruits and vegetables being grown using various controlled environment agriculture methods.
The future of CEA
CEA will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the future of crop production.
If the developments in the CEA space to date are anything to go by, imagine the possibilities of what’s to come. The future is looking good and there are higher chances of grower success to look forward to.
Getting started with controlled environment agriculture? See how we help indoor growers take control of their operations and achieve unparalleled efficiencies. Got more questions? Get in touch with us!