What is Controlled Environment Agriculture?


Photo Credit: Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture

Those of you who have been following us are very familiar with Trella Technologies’ dedication to creating automated and sustainable solutions for indoor food and Cannabis cultivation. We often refer to the acronym CEA when we are discussing the structures that can be used to produce food and medicine indoors and in small spaces. But what exactly is controlled environment agriculture (CEA), and why have we incorporated CEA into our own mission and vision? What is the connection between reducing your indoor growing footprint and using CEA? And most importantly, can and should CEA be replicated on a non-commercial level?

For many of us, when we hear the term “controlled environment agriculture”, images of infinite farmland peppered with greenhouses and high tunnels may naturally come to mind. If you have ever worked on a farm, you may also recall different structures used for different purposes: a grow tent for indoor seed germination; large structures dedicated to vegetation and flowering of certain crops; and depending on your location, still another structure for those crops or strains of plants that may not grow natively in local environmental conditions. While these structures all offer indoor growing opportunities, the structures themselves are not  “CEA” structures.

Visit our indoor plant training store to learn more about our growing systems.

The definition of controlled environment agriculture

What distinguishes CEA from other indoor growing methods is its use of technology to replicate and maintain ideal environmental grow conditions for specific plants. 

So, what’s the point? 

Cannabis growers in the US know that security and privacy are integral to any size grow operation - be it commercial or at home. Perhaps safety is the number one reason many Cannabis growers choose to move indoors; however, the Cannabis industry is not alone in seeking safer, more productive indoor grow spaces. According to the University of Arizona’s School of CEA in the Department of Biosystems Engineering: 

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be nine billion people on Earth. New technologies will be needed to feed the world’s population, and to grow food in outer space. Climate change adds to the pressure of food scarcity.”  

Higher levels of humidity and greater, more sudden temperature fluctuations make for rather unpredictable growing seasons that deviate from the natural patterns both plants and farmers have adapted to. As native climates change, weather events like hurricanes and subsequent flooding become more prevalent, while the seasons for these natural events are extended and the growing seasons are shortened.

Outdoor farmers are struggling to breed and maintain native species and strains of plants. Often, this means extra labor and, even on organic farms, extra fertilizers that will release carbon and increase the carbon footprint, all in the name of preventing disruption to the already strained food  and medicine systems we have. Talk about a catch 22. 

ScienceDaily notes that the carbon footprint may be especially high for outdoor Cannabis growers:

“Without land-use policies to limit its environmental footprint, the impacts of cannabis farming could get worse. Earlier studies have shown that cannabis production causes environmental damage, including rodenticide poisoning of forest mammals and dewatering of streams due to improper irrigation”. 

Simply put, if we want to meet the needs of an increasing global population, we have to become resourceful about the space we have and how we use it in order to get people the nutrition and medicine they need. We need to design ways to grow crops year-round despite the climate, the geography, and the lack of infrastructures that make crop accessibility equitable. We need to be able to grow what we want, where we want without continuing the cycle of climate change. We need to be able to liberate growers from the time constraints that have traditionally been required so that the fruits of labor are more plentiful, sustainable, and  economical. And we need to be able to pass on those savings and gains to the consumers who deserve affordable, accessible, high quality crops. This is especially true in urban areas where farmable land is scarce and fresh, local products are hard to come by. 

For example, here in the Northeast, CEA is not optional for those who rely on year-round harvests for wellness. June is hurricane season, and it now stretches into September. Winter seems to end in April and within a couple of weeks, you have 95 degree weather with 75% humidity. On the other side of the country in 2019, Oregon hemp farmers were devastated by hail storms, suffering millions of dollars in losses. Without a controlled environment to grow in, many plants succumb to shock, pests, and mildew that come with the sticky heat or drastic weather events. Farmers cannot afford these losses, and consumers cannot afford the price hikes that result.

Without CEA, our food system would undoubtedly rely on imported products. Without CEA, Cannabis farmers would not be able to meet the demand with an adequate supply of quality, mold-free medicine. 

All of this is what motivates Trella Technologies to continue to serve the grow community by engineering ways to scale up indoor cultivation while reducing our footprint.  We use recyclable materials to construct our TrellaGro LST™ units and manufacture in-house to keep our footprint low. The energy required to run a indoor growing unit is less than the energy required for a lightbulb. Automation of the low-stress training (LST) process via machine learning liberates growers by removing the burden of constant plant monitoring and manipulation, keeping plant stressors at bay and allowing growers to spend time on other tasks. Our app will track environmental conditions and alert growers to any changes that need attention. Stackablility of the units means maximizing small spaces for greater yield, and portability of the units means you can set up your sustainable, automated, indoor grow system closer to those who rely on your harvests. 

CEA is not just a fad. It can be the answer to the challenges that climate change and population growth present. We develop the technology that will make CEA a cutting edge solution for indoor food and Cannabis growers because our experience allows us to anticipate the needs of growers and consumers. Above all, we engineer for the health of the planet and its people. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you optimize your grow operation, reach out to us at emailus@trella.io. We are always happy to help.  

Until next time, stay lifted and keep growing strong!

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