Have you heard about controlled environmental agriculture (CEA)? It has become a trend among food producers and research and development firms due to its numerous benefits.
Food producers prefer CEA, as it does a great job in keeping contaminants out, thus providing a safe food supply. Also, it enables crops to be grown in harsh climates and protects them from floods and storms.
The following guide explains the growing methods and environments as part of controlled environmental agriculture.
What is CEA?
The abbreviation CEA stands for Controlled Environmental Agriculture. It refers to the production of crops in controlled environment structures like growth chambers, greenhouses, and vertical farms. By controlling certain environmental aspects, farmers reduce disease and pests, improve efficiency and sustainability, as well as increase yield. Read here about the implementation of controlled environmental agriculture.
Through automation, multiple factors are controlled, such as light, humidity, temperature, nutrients, carbon dioxide, etc. CEA allows the production of high-value crops in a highly efficient and eco-friendly manner. These crops are grown not just for food but also for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical applications.
There are various growing environments for CEA, mostly depending on the region and country. These include indoor farming, greenhouses, and vertical farming. Indoor farming stands for the production of crops that use supplemental lighting instead of sunlight like LED lights. This form of CEA includes warehouses, factories, rooms, containers, and other spaces that aren’t originally used for growing crops.
Vertical farming refers to the production of crops by using vertical space. Plants are stacked either in tall towers or horizontally. This farming style is excellent for small and high-density spaces like shipping containers. Consequently, it requires much less land for cultivation.
Another growing environment for CEA is a greenhouse made either of glass or polycarbonate. These structures use sunlight in the process of crop production. Nowadays, there is a multitude of Controlled Environment Agriculture solutions provided by experts in installation, engineering, maintenance, restoration, and scaling. In the summer months, CEA helps in controlling variables like humidity, sunlight, and temperature.
In contrast, protected cropping stands for the growth of crops outdoors with certain protection against outdoor elements. Such protection involves tunnel houses, canopies, or hoop houses. Pest control is known to be much harder when crops are under exposure to weather elements. Nevertheless, protected cropping provides protection against rain, frost, and hail.
Crops can be grown by applying different methods within a controlled environment, such as hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, and fogponics. For instance, hydroponics is the most popular method, as it doesn’t use soil as a medium but water instead. Plants receive nutrients and oxygen through the water. Plants can be grown in other mediums as well, like gravel, sand, coconut fiber, rock wool, etc.
Hydroponics represents a sustainable method of crop growth with water, enabling savings between seventy and ninety percent depending on the crop type. There are multiple hydroponic systems, including the drip system, nutrient film technique, wick, ebb and flow, water culture, etc. The usual crops produced with hydroponics include leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, strawberries, medical cannabis, microgreens, and others.
Aeroponics is another growing method requiring no soil and just a little water. When this method is used, plants are grown with their roots in the air. Since the roots are exposed to the air, they are sprayed with a water solution and nutrients. Root structures can capture the nutrient mist by putting them in an enclosed environment.
In addition, aeroponics is usually used with greenhouses by taking advantage of sunlight as the leading light source and using supplemental light if necessary. This growing method is unquestionably the most water-sustainable, using up to ninety percent less water in comparison with certain hydroponic systems. Go to this link, https://home.howstuffworks.com/lawn-garden/professional-landscaping/what-is-aeroponics.htm, to gain a better understanding of aeroponics.
Furthermore, aquaponics is a CEA growing method based on a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture, referring to raising fish. Fish produce waste like urea and ammonium, which along with the bacteria, provide all the necessary nutrients to plants. Aquaponics involves fast-growing fish like catfish, perch, and trout to supply the requirements of crops. It’s incredible how both types of species nurture each other without needing any chemical fertilizers.
Last but not least, fogponics is considered an improvement of aeroponics, as roots are once again exposed to the air. Nevertheless, fogponics relies on nutrient-rich droplets, which are basically vapor. These droplets are delivered to the roots, leaves, and stems.
Why is controlled environmental agriculture important?
Controlled environmental agriculture is believed to be highly important, as it uses a low amount of water and makes plant growth possible in all seasons irrespective of weather conditions. It provides farmers with greater control over crop production. One of the most important advantages of CEA is the conservation of nutrients and water, as water wastage and nutrient overuse are prevented.
When growing in a controlled environment, plants are healthier and grow much faster, reducing the need for supplements and pesticides. As a result, CEA-grown crops are better in quality and size if compared to soil-grown plants. CEA farming offers an increased production of greens and other plants, which are available throughout the year, even in urban environments.
The bottom line
Controlled environmental agriculture has the potential to shape the future of farming.
The conservation of water and nutrients provides food safety, reduces agricultural footprint, and produces high-quality crops!