CEA: Controlled Environment Agriculture.
If you aren’t familiar with CEA, the University of Arizona definition is the “production of plants and their products, such as vegetables and flowers, inside structures such as greenhouses. By using CEA, we can produce high value crops at maximum productivity in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.”
Think greenhouse on a very large scale!
CEA? A buzz acronym, you ask? A fad?
A column last week in the most recent S.C. Market Bulletin highlighted CEA and its potential future in South Carolina.
Hugh Weathers, S.C. Commissioner on Agriculture, visited the Netherlands in the spring to study that country’s CEA farms. His trip included Dutch farm operations having between 20 and 200 greenhouses. The visit could have far-reaching ramifications for the Palmetto State. Although the Netherlands is a small country, it is the second highest exporter of food in the world. Who knew, right? Only the United States surpasses the tiny Netherlands in food exports, and look at how much more land we have! This means that the Netherlands is using the most efficient technologies available for farming.
The September 2017 issue of the National Geographic magazine put the spotlight on the Netherlands as an “agricultural powerhouse.”
The article described “banks of what appear to be gargantuan mirrors stretch across the countryside, glinting when the sun shines and glowing with eerie interior light when night falls. They are Holland’s extraordinary greenhouse complexes, some of them covering 175 acres.
“These climate-controlled farms enable a country located a scant thousand miles from the Arctic Circle to be a global leader in exports of a fair-weather fruit: the tomato. The Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value. More than a third of all global trade in vegetable seeds originates in the Netherlands.”
Consider the tomato, a staple in Southerners’ summer diets. Who doesn’t love a ripe tomato fresh from the vine! The Dutch tomato industry is the world leader in yield. Through CEA, farms in the Netherlands produce more tomatoes per square mile than anywhere else. While we can’t vouch for taste, we do know that someone is eating all of those tomatoes.
However Netherlands’ farmers have managed CEA production, it is working, and the world is watching.
The Palmetto Agribusiness Council has been studying CEA operations as a possible fit for South Carolina where the demand for locally produced vegetables and plant products has grown dramatically in recent years. On a more global view, Weathers reports that the world’s population is expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050. Farmers here and abroad will have the challenge of growing more food in the next 40 years than ever before. As the world’s population grows so does the potential for world hunger.
CEA makes sense for areas where extremes in temperature or water or available sunlight limit the production of produce or certain crops. CEA operations offer the ability to monitor variables such as light, temperature, nutrient concentration and pests. It could be thought of as “Sci-Fi Farming,” except that the future is here and the advances are real!
Traditional farming methods aren’t likely to disappear. But changes already have come to local, traditional farms in the form of technology and other advances, for example.
Agriculture, like every other business, needs an educated workforce. That is why the future of De La Howe’s school for agriculture is so promising. As the population of our state, nation and world grows, farmers will grow their operations to feed consumers.
CEA is the “buzz” in South Carolina and elsewhere. Commissioner Weathers said if CEA is going to become viable for South Carolina, “there are educational, financial and technological considerations, just for starters.”
Notice that “educational” was first in the list of considerations! Future De La Howe graduates will be at the forefront of agricultural revolutions, some of which already are under way.