New York City, the epicenter for CEA

13-10-2021    11:37   |    Agritech Tomorrow

New York City (NYC) has seen a significant boom in companies pioneering hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics. According to PitchBook Data, venture capitalists invested $1.42 billion in agriculture-related startups in NY from 2012-2020.

Tell us about yourself and Grow-NY.

I‘m Jenn Smith, the director of Cornell University’s Grow-NY program. Grow-NY exists to enhance the emerging agrifood innovation cluster in the Grow-NY region – Central New York, Finger Lakes, and Southern Tier.

This year, we received more than 330 applications from 32 countries. And, we just had the opportunity to announce the top 20 finalists moving on to the final round. These entrepreneurs will be paired with a dedicated industry mentor, spend significant time networking in and getting to know the region, and will ultimately pitch in our live to expert judges in front of an audience at our Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit this November. Empire State Development is funding the competition through its Upstate Revitalization Initiative, and Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement is administering it.

What are Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) methods? 

Cornell University recently released a report titled, “Call for Innovation: New York’s Agrifood System” where we share findings based on intervews with dozens of farmers, manufacturers, retailers, researchers, and other key stakeholders. The intention of these interviews was to use the insights and data gleaned as a way to guide inventors and investors toward some of the more urgent technology needs within New York’s vast farming and food processing industries. Controlled Environment Agriculture, or CEA, is one of those categories that really rose the top in many of the conversations we were having. 

CEA features soilless systems such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics. While CEA is not new by any means, it’s growing in popularity as it provides farmers and producers a great way to supersede climate factors, taking control of the temperature, humidity, airflow, and light within an indoor setting to create the most optimal growing environments, year-round.

What is typically grown using CEA? 

A cornucopia of fruits and vegetables can be grown. By far, leafy greens are the most popular crop, mostly because of their high-water needs. That said, many of the NYC farmers we spoke with focus on growing lettuces, arugula, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and microgreens year-round.

What are the advantages of CEA methods? 

From talking with industry stakeholders for the Agrifood report, we’ve learned that is CEA is touted as a way to facilitate optimal growing conditions indoors. Since it’s indoors, there’s reduced risks including reduce pest issues, diseases and of course, the elimination of harsh weather. It provides farmers the opportunity to grow certain vegetables year-round with essentially minimal disruption and some of CEA farmers we spoke with, felt this method produced higher yields.

Cornell completed a study in 2019 study where CEA farms in NYC did indeed experience significantly higher yields for lettuces, anywhere from 150 to 900 tons per acre compared to 18 tons per acre with traditional, outdoor, soil-based farming of greens so the potential is definitely there.

We also found that many farmers valued the added predictability factor of CEA. Farmers using CEA often note that they gain a greater level of control over the care regiment, labor practices, chemical use, and even nutrient demands and waste. Some even feel that CEA enabled improved food safety practices in the supply chain so you can see why –at the very least—that it’s a practice that keeps bubbling up in industry conversations.

Read more on Agritech Tomorrow.


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