Integrating CEA into Green Infrastructure – Creating Jobs, Circularity and Sustainability in Agriculture & Energy Production
Tom Zoellner, MSc.
Secretary-General of the FarmTech Society, Belgium
Roundtable Concept & Topics
Green infrastructure is an increasingly important topic. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) has been proposed to be seen as a form of green infrastructure. However, to realise the full potential of this proposition, it is necessary for CEA to be seen as one part of a much wider set of food producing systems. Hybrid approaches must be adopted in which, rather than CEA being seen as competition to other agriculture, it is instead seen as complementary to and cooperative with it.
CEA is maximally efficient both in terms of land-use and input resources, and offers necessary solutions both in hybrid application and in stand-alone systems. By growing more with less, providing fresh and nutritious locally grown food, improving farmer income, and delivering safe and predictable yields based on circular principals, CEA has the potential to reduce the demand burden on traditional industry actors, and transform the agriculture sector in the long-term.
Through its highly digitized processes and resource-optimized approach, CEA can reliably produce high yields of nutritious goods, while saving land and water, protecting soil, and creating well-paid jobs with attractive STEM profiles:
Creating a new industry for STEM jobs – The technology-driven nature of the new farming economy precludes hazardous and unhealthy labor-practices while upgrading and adding technology and science profiles (STEM) to the food production industry, around e.g. crop science, bioengineering, data analysis or urban field growing. Furthermore, this job creation is not regionally constrained, and provides much needed opportunity to economically distressed rural and urban communities.
Domestic manufacturing and supply chain resilience: Through localised food and resource production, CEA offers independence from long, heavily concentrated, shock-prone supply-chains, while minimising transport-related emissions and food waste.
Food security and sovereignty: By relocating growing practices into protected environments, major yield risks are mitigated, eliminating unforeseen weather and climate conditions. CEA practices enable full control of the yield quality, with tight sanitation and hygiene regimens, and can produce reliable quantities of fresh produce all year round.
Soil protection: CEA practices significantly reduce threats of pollution, pests, and plant disease, protect resources and reduce reliance on synthetic fossil fuel based inputs. This protects farmers from production input price volatility, while preventing agricultural runoff and nutrient depletion of the soil, allowing restoration of agricultural land.
Water protection: Sensor-controlled, circular growing practices optimize farmers’ irrigation systems. Excess water can be captured and recycled,minimizing water requirements.
Less food waste and transport emissions: Production capacity and supply-chains are de-carbonized and run through smart manufacturing regimens. Localization and land-use efficiency allows CEA to minimize supply chain vulnerabilities and associated emissions and food waste.
Circular system synergies: CEA integrates waste streams (nutrients, energy, efficiencies) by closing nutrient cycles, balancing and buffering renewable energy production and reusing former brownfields. Therefore, increasing the resilience of agriculture inputs for farms when farms are experiencing severed conventional fertilizer inflationary pressures.
De-risking yields: CEA practices are highly digitized, which allows for continuous data monitoring and improvements of both the plants and the growing environment, the nutritional value and shelf-life of plants, while minimizing the energy and water needed for growing.
Conserving land dedicated to wildlife for improvement of biodiversity that would normally be converted for conventional food and timber production: CEA is about doing more with less. By drastically reducing farmers’ land-use/yield ratio, communities can preserve more land for wildlife, safeguarding natural beauty and biodiversity for future generations.
About FarmTech Society
FarmTech Society is an international non-profit association representing the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) sector, consisting of 70 companies with over 60,000 employees in 24 countries. FTS was founded to become a pre-competitive voice and an independent representation for the sector, to raise awareness and help to support fledgling startups and industry stakeholder from innovation driven solution provider into maturing industry players with a growing market share. CEA is positioned to provide an increasingly significant contribution to food security, sovereignty, climate change adaptation, local economies, R&D investments, STEM job opportunities and much more!