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June 2, 2023

Ask the expert: Could Controlled Environment Agriculture be the future of farming and solve food insecurity?

“Ask the expert” articles provide information and insights from MSU scientists, researchers and scholars about national and global issues, complex research and general-interest subjects based on their areas of academic expertise and study. They may feature historical information, background, research findings or offer tips.  

Over the next decade, the market for growing crops indoors or in controlled environments — known as Controlled Environment Agriculture, or CEA  —  is predicted to increase five times over today’s market. And researchers at Michigan State University are at the forefront of this growing method of agriculture.  

Yongsig Kim, a senior research associate in the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory in Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science, is leading MSU’s $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems program in the National Institute of Food and Agriculture that is responsible for reimagining what CEA will look like in a low-carbon world with lower carbon dioxide emissions and growing new vegetation that leaves a low-carbon footprint.

What is Controlled Environment Agriculture? 

Controlled Environment Agriculture is the production of food crops in greenhouses and indoor spaces using less energy. The focus of the current project is on low tech traditional greenhouses which are more economically feasible for rural farmers.   

What are the benefits of CEA? 

CEA increases food security by providing more fruits and vegetables on a year-round basis from local farmers. Another advantage is that CEA reduces the number of miles that food needs to travel, which also reduces the amount of carbon emissions, before it reaches consumers’ plates.  

What are the challenges of CEA that MSU is working to solve? 

One challenge is growing food in CEA spaces that can better preserve the taste and nutrition of the food grown. For example, we want to be able to grow tomatoes and lettuce indoors that satisfy the needs of local consumers. The main goal of my project is to identify traits that make a tomato plant more resistant to colder temperatures which have been lost as the plant has been domesticated. 

Another issue is that CEA spaces require massive amounts of energy, which is not sustainable in a low-carbon economy. Currently, CEA spaces need a lot of energy to control the climate, provide optimum levels of artificial lighting and to administer chemical fertilizer. Our team’s long-term goal is to transform CEA so that it is a viable food production system capable of producing sufficient and nutritious foods within a low-carbon economy.   

Our goals are to reduce the demand for heating and cooling in CEA food production environments, improve the overall efficiency of CEA climate-controlled environments, lower the amount of carbon dioxide needed for CEA spaces and, finally, shift consumer and producer behavior in support of CEA products and practices.

By: Emilie Lorditch

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