The International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture brought together industry-leading participants in controlled environment agriculture to focus on working to reach its full potential.
What happens when you bring together leading educators, researchers and thought leaders from the horticulture and agriculture industries?
What happens when you combine those leaders with enthusiastic growers, entrepreneurs and personally-invested individuals focused on horticulture and agriculture innovation from around the world?
Finally, what happens when you provide these people with a platform in which they can discuss problems, create solutions, share ideas, break bread and most importantly have fun?
One word: Magic.
The International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture (ICCEA) hosted by the Foundation for the Development of Controlled Environment Agriculture (FDCEA) once again created these magical opportunities and platforms. ICCEA, which was held in Panama City, Panama, May 17-19, gave attendees the opportunity to look at controlled environment agriculture as a tool that can be used in a variety of ways to address local needs. These needs vary based on access to natural resources, human resources, capital, climate and geographical location.
3 Key Takeaways
For me there were three key topics that were discussed during ICCEA that still have me thinking: climate management, plant architecture and networking. Each of these topics has the ability to take on different meanings as you change the construct of the conversation. Each of these topics still has many unanswered questions. Each of the topics still needs additional thought, research and work in order for controlled environment agriculture to reach its full potential.
Discussions on climate management change immensely depending on a person’s location. Having a horticultural event in Panama City forces you to keep this in mind. Panama City is located in Panama, which is an extremely hot and humid Central American country most of the year. Its infrastructure is significantly different than most U.S., European and Japanese cities, which are also very different from one another.
Climate management tends to be one of the last things people who are new to the horticulture industry try to figure out. The first consideration always seems to be what type of irrigation system to use.
In many cases, climate management only becomes a focal point once there is a problem with a crop or after a facility or site has been chosen. This is actually quite amusing, since traditional industrial agriculture has spent much of the last couple centuries chasing the optimum climate. This seems to be the case for new greenhouse growers as well as those operating vertical farms.
This is especially true for those growers going into difficult climates (or cultures) where controlled environment agriculture does not currently exist. Much of the information about growing in these locations comes from companies trying to sell “turnkey” options based on experiences in vastly different environments. For all these reasons (and more), I thought the climate management discussions were extremely important and will continue to be important as more investments are made in controlled environment agriculture and a wider variety of crops are trialed and grown.
I firmly expect someone smarter than me will correct my choice of the term “plant architecture.” But I believe that this is (like it has been for much of agriculture) the key to unlocking the potential of controlled environment agriculture.
Plant architecture is defined as the three-dimensional organization of the plant body and is also of major agronomic importance. Plant architecture strongly influences the suitability of a plant for cultivation, its yield and the efficiency with which a plant can be harvested.
History shows that other areas of agriculture, including the Green Revolution, grew out of “our” ability to reconstruct the plant structure making both it and growers more efficient in production. Currently the vertical farming industry is ignoring plant architecture but the greenhouse vegetable industry for the most part is not (for reasons that are easily explained and if you would like to discuss details this in greater detail message me). If we as an industry are to increase yields, increase quality and decrease cost like we hope to, we will have to start quickly finding ways to solve this problem. I expect that these achievements will initially occur through public research, and then quickly advance through public/private partnerships.
Photosynthesis does not control plant growth, plant growth controls photosynthesis. – Frits Went, 1957
One of the most tiring parts of my job has been the constant travel I do worldwide. But each decision to take a well-planned business trip has allowed me and my businesses to grow in ways that cannot be matched.
Twenty plus years of travel has influenced me and helped to make me who I am. It has given me the opportunity to meet, listen and interact with individuals far smarter than me. It has exposed me to people with different cultural backgrounds, perspectives and reasons for being in business.
Today, however, technology seems to be changing the opinions of my industry colleagues on the importance of travel. Plenty of people have told me that they don’t feel they can learn anything from events like ICCEA. They believe they can collect this information from internet searches, websites, scientific papers, books or social media. I admit that there are plenty of meetings, tradeshows and events that are a waste of time, but some research will unearth real “learning” opportunities that provide unmatched educational returns while at the same time introducing you to mentors and or friends that will last a lifetime.
Congrats to an amazing mentor, Professor Kozai on receiving an award for a lifetime of innovation.
My sincerest thanks to everyone who joined me at this year’s Congress. It was because of you that I left re-energized, a little bit smarter and more enthusiastic about the future of controlled environment agriculture.