Research on CEA Greenhouses Shows Room for Improvement

The application of controlled-environmental agriculture (CEA) is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. The primary and most popular examples of CEA architecture include greenhouses and indoor/vertical farming. Acceptance of CEA has largely grown due to less material waste, lessened environmental impacts, and its adaptability for use in urban, desert, and drought-prone areas when compared to traditional farming and growing practices. 

However, the implementation of CEA is not without its downsides and risks. One major area of concern is the increased costs factored in to both establish and maintain CEA projects compared to conventional means. 

Ziynet Boz, an assistant professor at the University of Florida (UF), Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) headlined a newly published paper with other UF faculty, including Donald Coon and Lauren Lindow. Found on Springer Link and titled “Reporting and Practices of Sustainability in Controlled Environment Agriculture: A Scoping Review,” the paper is comprised of research done on the sustainability practices and challenges faced by CEA growers. 

Three of the largest challenges outlined in the paper for further CEA adoption and increased stability include: 

Geography Issues 

Depending on the construction area of controlled-environmental agriculture architecture, extreme temperatures, transportation availability, and more issues can impact costs and efficiency. 

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High Electricity Use 

Energy costs for indoor operations are much higher compared to traditional farming practices. This is primarily due to the greater need for climate and environmental control procedures. Generally, electricity usage accounts for roughly 20% to 30% of CEA operational costs. 

Public Perception 

Currently, the general public has a more positive view of conventional field production compared to that of CEA. Due to its position as a new composite of technology, it can be viewed as unnatural, not helped by the common descriptive term of “plant factory.” A lack of transparency is also a noted issue.

However, these challenges can be faced and improved upon.

“These issues are now being addressed by optimized lighting and sensor technology, decision-support tools to reduce electricity use, and communications tactics to educate people about the benefits of CEA,” says Boz, adding that “By addressing challenges, farmers and researchers can improve the sustainability, efficiency, and yield of CEA operations.” 

Coon had his own suggestions on how to proceed with CEA projects, stating “Engage all three dimensions of sustainability – environmental, economic and, social. Produce a profitable product, with minimal adverse impact and listen and respond to what the consumers are looking for. Focusing on just one of those at a time is inefficient and risky.” 

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