Controlled Environmental Agriculture (CEA) means just that: it’s agriculture, but in a controlled environment where the farmer has greater control over what they’re growing. And this type of farming is trending in the USA for a number of reasons, including increased efficiency and sustainability.
Here we’ll discuss all about Controlled Environmental Agriculture practices, what types are most common today, and why you might consider using them on your farm if you don’t already.
What is Controlled Environmental Agriculture?
Controlled Environmental Agriculture practices use a number of growing techniques to control the environment around the crops. These include things like aquaponics, hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, or greenhouse farming. The point is, that the growing environment can be controlled and maintained in a way that allows for faster growth rates and greater efficiency than traditional means of growing crops and producing food.
As per the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center: CEA is ”controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is defined as an integrated science and engineering-based approach to provide specific environments for plant productivity. CEA integrates science and engineering to maximize plant and biosystems productivity so that regulated, engineered environments have the capacity to maximize production and optimize the use of resources including water, energy, land and space, capital and labor, and human satisfaction.”
There are two ways CEA can be implemented: elemental or holistic. Elemental CEA is based on a single growing method or element, such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics. Holistic CEA includes multiple elements or methods that are combined to create optimal growing conditions for specific crops.
What are the types of Controlled Environmental Agriculture?
Here are some of the common types of controlled environmental agriculture.
- Greenhouses: A Greenhouse is a structure made out of transparent material, such as glass or plastic-like polycarbonate, etc. It’s used most often to protect plants from harsh weather conditions and to provide enough light for them, so they can grow vegetative. Greenhouses can be natural or man-made, but you will generally find ones made of glass in controlled environment farming operations.
- Hydroponics: Hydroponics is a growing system whereby plants are grown in water with added nutrients via an artificial medium, such as clay pellets. This allows the plants to be grown in a more controlled environment, with plants having greater control over their environment. Hydroponic farms produce fewer pesticide wastes than other farming methods because there’s no soil involved.
- Aeroponics: Aeroponics is a form of hydroponics where there is no growing media, and instead, roots hang in mid-air as they grow. The roots are sprayed or misted with a nutrient solution on a regular basis. This type of farming requires little space and allows for greater crop density than other methods such as soil farming.
- Aquaponics: Aquaponics is a system of growing fish and plants together. The fish’s waste fertilizes the plants, and in turn, the plants filter out the water for the fish. This form of farming is considered environmentally friendly because it has low power needs, low water waste, and low effluent runoff. It produces high yields while being space-saving and can be done indoors or outdoors.
- Vertical Farms: Vertical farms are crops grown indoors on massively stacked shelves in a sealed environment. It’s most commonly done with vegetables and herbs. Vertical farming is a form of soil farming, but the growth is done in a way that allows for greater growth rates and more efficient yields than traditional methods.
- Raised Garden Beds: Though everybody may not agree, raised garden beds or raised planter boxes also can be considered as a CEA practice if it is keeping indoors. It is great for growing fresh herbs, vegetables, and flowers on a minuscule scale. There are different types of raised garden beds available in the market. The most common type of raised garden beds are the raised beds with a wood frame. They are the most common type of raised beds and are the easiest to build.
Why use Controlled Environmental Agriculture?
Controlled environmental agriculture uses a number of methods that make growing crops faster and more efficient. Because of this, it can be used for everything from food production to medicinal or herbal plant cultivation. Here’s what makes CEA so effective:
- Efficient use of space: Growing in controlled environments allows for better control over the environment and the climate in which the crops are grown. This means that they can be grown in a way where space is maximized and efficiency is high.
- Fewer losses from pests and disease: Using a controlled environment can make plants more resistant to certain diseases and pests. This allows farmers to prevent problems with insects or weeds entirely, and crops are grown in a way that reduces the risk of these problems.
- Higher yields: Controlling the environment around the crop allows for greater growth rates, which means higher yields than traditional farming methods. This means more food per foot, so it’s a good choice if you’re looking for large-scale production.
What are some considerations when choosing a Controlled operating system?
When choosing a method for your CEA farm, you should consider a number of conditions and features. Here are some things you should pay attention to when choosing your CEA system:
The types of plants or crops you want to grow:
One of the most important considerations for any farming operation is what type of crops it will grow. You can find suitable systems for any crop, but one method isn’t always the best for every crop. Almost everything can be grown in CEA practice, but, you should do a thorough study as per your needs and if it is a large scale, according to the market priorities as well. If you have a preference, then that’s a good choice
Controlling the environment around your plants is a big part of CEA farming. You’ll need to decide what type of growing environment is best for the plants you want to grow. It all depends on what works best for your crop and how much energy you want to put into maintaining your farm. Knowing your crops well is essential to set up a controlled environment that will allow them to flourish.
- Energy requirements: Many CEA operations require a significant amount of energy to operate properly. This is especially true of those that use artificial lighting, water flow, and air temperature regulation. You will need to know how much energy your growing system requires so you can make proper adjustments to the overall system.
- Plant nutrition: The type of plants you want to grow in CEA will affect what type of nutrients are best for the crop. You’ll also want to take into account where your crops are grown so you can get the ideal mix of nutrients. If possible, go organic, always.
- Water sources: CEA farms sometimes use water from rainfall or groundwater instead of using it for irrigation. This means that water can be used up quickly, especially if your farm irrigates its plants using a pump or with sprinkler systems or with gravity. You’ll need to consider the availability of water for each crop you use in CEA farming because you may need to use less water on some crops than other types of crops. This means that you’ll have control over how much water each crop uses.
- Light source: If your farm uses no artificial light, you can grow all of your plants in a single area. The same is true if you use artificial lights such as LED Grow Lights because there will be more plants in the same area. You will need to evaluate the amount of light available for each type of plant you want to plant. Plants such as tomatoes and peppers need a lot of light and will require a good source of natural sunlight, while plants like lettuce and herbs provide little nutritional value but can be grown in an area with less light.
- Temperature: The temperature of the farming area is important for crops that need constant heat or cold. If you have a CEA farm, you’ll need to keep the temperature of the water and air within acceptable ranges for each crop.
- Plants in containers: A few CEA farms use plants in containers. This means that crops can be grown in small spaces with very limited space or even yards with little room, where other crops won’t grow as well. This is great for small farms that may have very limited resources.
What are some advantages to using CEA farming?
Crop production in a controlled environment allows you to create an output that’s greater than what could be achieved with a conventional system. In addition, the quality of your product is likely to be greater.
Here are some of the other benefits to CEA farming:
- Better control over the environment surrounding your plants means that you can create ideal conditions for specific crops and improve their growth.
- You can save money on labor costs because you don’t have to hire people to water and fertilize your crops.
- A controlled environment means you can grow to produce year-round. You can grow even in places that are too cold to grow conventional crops during colder seasons.
- CEA farming allows you to easily assess plant health and fertility levels using observation instead of the need for physical interaction, such as when using touch. This saves time and allows for more accurate data regarding your crop’s health.
There are different systems for CEA farming, from drip irrigation to hydroponics, to aquaponics. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. You should choose the method that best suits your needs and what you want to achieve with your CEA farm.
What are some disadvantages of Controlled Environmental Agriculture?
Controlled environmental agriculture isn’t without its disadvantages, however. Here are a few of them:
- Higher startup costs: CEA is generally more expensive than traditional farming. You’ll need equipment and infrastructure to set up a farm using these methods, and that equipment starts at several hundred dollars for the items you’ll need. A greenhouse alone can run several thousands of dollars.
- More difficult to manage: Some are having the opinion that a farm using CEA methods is more difficult to manage than a traditional soil-based farm. (But, it is not always true!) You have to manage the water, air temperature, and light levels, so you have to know what you’re doing if you want your crops to grow properly.
- Some strict requirements: This is a downside for everyone but organic farmers and those who sell their crops as organic. If you sell your crops as organic, you’ll need to maintain strict environmental controls in the growing area and keep them free of pesticide residues. This means that you need to make sure your crops are grown in a way that keeps them free of unwanted pests.
- Poor soil conditions: Though it’s possible to grow any crop in a CEA environment if you’re careful, crops grown in a controlled environment don’t necessarily have the best soil conditions. In fact, many plants will grow better in soil as they would under normal farming methods rather than CEA
How are yields and profit increased when using CEA growing methods?
- By Controlling Weeds: If you use traditional open farming, many pathogens can be transmitted by weeds through soil to the plant itself or via contaminated water runoff, such as that from rainwater or crop irrigation on nearby fields. If you grow plants in a controlled environment, you’re not likely to have any weeds. This means that the plants aren’t exposed to plant pathogens that could reduce their quality or even kill them. Less parasite attack can increase your yield naturally. (For sure, it cuts your cost-on pesticide and its spraying labor.)
- By Less usage of Water: By using less water than conventional farms use for irrigation, CEA farming means that there is less of a chance for crop diseases and diseases in the soil. This is because of the fact that in almost all the controlled farming, water flows through pipes instead of being sprayed on crops using sprinklers or other methods. In CEA farming, you can control how much water is used for each crop. You can use only enough water to promote the growth of your plants and then remove all excess water once it’s dried up.
- By Keeping a Preferred Temperature: CEA farms tend to keep temperatures lower than on traditional farms, which means that you have more control over how plants are grown for optimal results. For example, tomatoes are a very sensitive plant to temperature changes and the best temperature range for them is between 60–80 °F (16–27 °C). If it’s too cold, they may not bear fruit at all and if the temperature is too high, they will start to degenerate. You can adjust the temperature to within a specific range that’s ideal for your plants and your yields will be at its optimal.
- By Automation: A great advantage of CEA farming is that it’s less labor intensive than conventional farming. Automation means you spend less time and money on farming yourself and more time on other aspects of your business, such as research and marketing. You can get maximum yield benefit from automation by using sensors to automatically control the variables in your farm, such as watering and fertilizer. You can also use a computerized system for storing your data so that you don’t have to keep records manually all the time. Using a laptop, you can program it to automatically respond to temperature and water levels. This automation also keeps your indoor plants in perfect attention and can cause better output by your crops. It also cuts your overall cost and in all its means lessen your financial inputs and make your revenue booms.
- By Adjusting the Environment: You can adjust how plants are grown for optimal results by varying temperature and humidity levels in different areas of your farm. For example, in some areas, you can make the temperature higher to encourage plant growth, while in other areas with lower temperatures and humidity levels, you can make them ideal for flowering.
- By Using Less Transportation: CEA farms generally take up less space than conventional farms do. If your farm is based in the city, this means that it’s easier to transport fresh foods to consumers without worrying about spoilage or food contamination. You’re not wasting time transporting produce to the city from the farm or vice versa because you can grow them right in the same location.
- By Using Space More Effectively: CEA farms generally take up less space than conventional farms do. This can be very useful in urban environments where there’s little space available. You may be able to make a profit by growing food on your roof or even in your backyard with a smaller CEA farm.
- By Creating Less Pollution: CEA farms also recycle more water than conventional farms do. For example, a hydroponic system recycles almost all of its water through drainage pipes, so there’s very little waste. This is better for the environment because fertilizers and other chemicals aren’t spread on the land and water runoff from heavy rainfall or irrigation is reduced.
- By Producing More nutritious food: CEA farms generally produce more nutritious crops than conventional farms do. For example, hydroponics uses a nutrient film technique (NFT) where the nutrient solution, which is highly concentrated and contains minerals, is applied directly to the root zone of the plants. This means that you get better quality, more nutritious crops in a much smaller space than you would in a conventional farm.
Overall, you don’t have to worry about pesticides, herbicides, or other harmful chemical products. The land you own is safe and can’t be polluted by chemical runoff. You don’t have to worry about the weather and keeping up with a particular harvest schedule. With CEA farming, you don’t have to worry about pests eating your plants or weeds taking over your crops. CEA farming increases overall yield because you are controlling the environment that the plants are grown in.
We hope that this guide will make more people aware of the advantages of CEA farming. As if we were to succeed in convincing everyone to switch from conventional farming to Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), it would be a huge step towards sustainable agriculture. Imagine what would happen with much less use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. The benefits are endless, especially for the environment and for profits. Definitely, controlled environments are safer alternatives for farmers and investors alike.