Written by: Leanna Sweha, JD
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) – growing food in greenhouses and indoors – is a relatively new industry that is seeing exponential growth in the United States. CEA facilities are popping up all over the world. Demand is high for graduates with CEA coursework and training. CEA firms have raised millions in investment dollars.
The long-term success of the nascent CEA industry depends on scaling and commercializing technology, workforce development, and profitably tapping into markets.
This is where The Global Controlled Environment Agriculture Consortium (“GCEAC”), spearheaded by The VINE and its partners, is perfectly positioned to help.
So, what exactly is GCEAC and how did it come about?
We talked to Jim Pantaleo, Business Development Coordinator at the AI Institute for Food Systems (“AIFS”), a VINE partner and GCEAC member, to learn about its history.
Pantaleo is a pioneer in indoor vertical farming. He was General Manager of Urban Produce, Southern California’s first large-scale commercial indoor vertical farm, where he was involved in all areas of production and operations. An industry evangelist, he has hosted several international conferences, and he has been an organizer, host and content chair for the annual conference, Indoor Ag Con.
Pantaleo said GCEAC grew out of initiatives going back to 2018, first and foremost through UC ANR and its close association with Wageningen University, the world’s top-rated agricultural university.
The first GCEAC meeting was held at the 2019 Indoor AgCon in Las Vegas. Pantaleo brought key players together, including UC ANR/The VINE’s Gabe Youtsey, NASA research scientist and technical advisor Dave Bubenheim, University of Arizona professor and CEA expert Gene Giacomelli, and CEA veteran Penny McBride.
Dutch representatives at the meeting included Dr. Silke Hemming, head of the scientific research team Greenhouse Technology at Wageningen University and Marcel van Haren of the Dutch tech industry networking organization FME. The group discussed collaboration and technology development opportunities.
The Covid19 pandemic slowed progress, but in 2021 GCEAC took off as a formal collaborative program.
The VINE is a major driver of the group, along with FME and NLWORKS, a Dutch association that facilitates connections between Dutch and US companies. Dozens of Dutch and US private and public sector organizations are now on board.
GCEAC’s mission is to accelerate profitable indoor horticulture globally through collaborative innovation. GCEAC will meet its mission through pre-competitive activities that support company, workforce, and technology growth. This in turn will achieve the following industry goals: 1) the sustainability of CEA production; 2) increasing the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables while reducing waste; and 3) increasing efficiency and profitability of the CEA industry through novel technology.
The power of GCEAC comes from its broad membership along the entire CEA value chain, including growers, processors, distributors, entrepreneurs, universities and many other stakeholders and interest groups.
GCEAC’s near term focus has been on the development of a technical roadmap. The roadmap defines key challenges to CEA growth and profitability, identifies technology and related solutions and their time horizons, and prioritizes these solutions. GCEAC members have so far identified key challenges, prioritized topics from among these challenges and formed technical working groups to address them.
According to Pantaleo, “the benefit of pre-competitive collaboration has been GCEAC’s biggest draw.”
This is the first in a multi-part blog on GCEAC. The next installment will discuss GCEAC’s technical roadmap, specifically the key challenges identified by GCEAC members and the industry working groups that have formed to address them.
To learn more, please visit GCEAC’s LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/gceac/