Cornell University in Ithaca, New York has received a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation in order to study how controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) compares to conventional field agriculture in terms of energy, carbon and water footprints, profitability, workforce development and scalability. The initiative – ‘Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems’ – will examine the viability of CEA’s in six ways:
- Case studies: looking at current sources of produce in metropolitan areas, the market channels they go through prior to reaching consumers, and whether produce from CEA’s could replace these products and utilise the same market channels;
- Computer modeling of energy and water use: examining energy and water use for different crops in greenhouses, vertical farms and plant factories;
- Networking: promoting industry-to-research networks for facilitating the acceptance, adoption, and improvement of metropolitan CEA systems;
- Nutritional value: comparing the nutritional value of produce from greenhouses and plant factories and those values with CEA systems;
- Workforce needs: researchers at Cornell are collaborating with the Association for Vertical Farming to assess the workforce needs of the urban CEA industry; and,
- Training opportunities: the group will create workforce training opportunities, hold conferences and events to share information, and create website providing information and links to resources for urban farmers.
“By putting all these pieces together – including energy, water, workforce development and economic viability – we hope to discover if CEAs make sense for producing food for the masses,” said Neil Mattson, the principal investigator of the initiative. “Urban agriculture is an increasingly touted way to connect producers with consumers, and this grant will help guide full development of this industry and do better to figure out where the best opportunities might be, as well as cases where it doesn’t make sense.”