AgHires Post The Great Regret

How to Navigate Hiring During the Great Regret

Over the last couple of years, the labor market has fluctuated drastically, and every industry is feeling that rollercoaster ride, including the indoor agriculture industry. It’s tough trying to find quality candidates that are willing to make the jump to a new organization. While not too long ago it seemed as if everyone was jumping ship from their current employer, however, many contributing factors are now causing job seekers to be more cautious.

The Great Regret

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a new quit rate record was made in November and December 2021, rising to 3%, in what has been called the Great Resignation. Just like any trend, the great resignation has ended. However, now it has taken a turn. New studies show that those who have acted impulsively to quit their jobs are now regretting their decision, about 1 and 4 people who have quit their job in the last year have regrets. While over 40% of those who left for a new opportunity say their new job is not living up to their expectations.

These candidates may have learned to take their time when considering quitting their job, and now are being extra cautious. Since many candidates have just left a job, they’re not likely ready to leave another, which is going to make the talent pool smaller. They are also going to take their time finding a new job that checks all their boxes. While, hopefully, they’ve learned to consider all the possibilities when it comes to finding a new job, it does slow down the hiring process.

Bystanders of the Great Resignation

Those employees that did not participate in the Great Resignation, watched their coworkers, friends, and family quit their jobs. Many of them may have been envious but didn’t want to take the plunge. However, now they are watching them regret their decisions. This is causing these candidates to approach a new opportunity with caution. They don’t want to take a leap and regret their choice. They feel safer staying put.

Recession Concerns

The looming recession is also causing candidates to hesitate. While we may have hoped the economy would have leveled out after 2 years of disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic, other factors have dashed those hopes. While experts are divided on the probability, many people have concerns that a recession is in our immediate future.

With the possibility looming, candidates are not going to act impulsively. Instead, they are going to carefully weigh the risks and rewards of changing jobs. They will consider if the agribusiness or indoor farm will be a stable opportunity. Is there a possibility of layoffs, could the company close, or will they still have an income if the recession comes? Is the company culture a better fit than where they are currently employed? Is there a pay increase and is it worth the risk?

How to Hire During the Great Regret

With so much hesitation from candidates, it’s making it difficult to find quality candidates in the controlled environment agriculture industry. In today’s job market, finding candidates for your open positions feels like an uphill battle. We’re finding that job seekers are applying to roles but are taking extra caution with which role they will move forward with. So, how can you fill your current openings when everyone is afraid to move?

Train the Right Person

If it’s a struggle to find candidates willing to take the leap for a new job consider hiring outside of the industry or hiring more junior employees, and spend some extra time training. Ensuring that your training is efficient and effective will allow you to bring new hires up to speed quickly and keep your agribusiness or indoor farm competitive in the market.

Also, look within your current team and promote from within. You might already have the right person for the job with some extra training. Training is sharing knowledge and teaching employees to perform their best. It may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Look for Inherent Traits

Remember, it’s not always what is on the resume that is important. Yes, you want your employees to have the skills and know-how to do a job, but you also want a candidate that fits your company’s culture. Their resume doesn’t show you what their work ethic is like or if their personality will mesh well with your team.

Finding the right people with the right attitude can make all the difference in your hiring strategy. In ag, we want candidates that have a strong work ethic, are passionate about their work and have the energy and enthusiasm required to do the job. Other industries also attract those candidates, such as the military and construction industry. They also have skills that can easily translate into the agriculture industry.

It’s All About Your Culture

Your organization’s culture is ultimately what will attract quality candidates to your indoor farm or agribusiness. Today’s candidates want to know what it’s like to work with your team on a daily basis and if will they fit in with the environment. Filling your team with employees that have similar values, behaviors, and communication styles will help your team and indoor ag business be successful.

Showcase your culture in your job descriptions and during interviews. Don’t just tell them what it’s like to work at the organization but give them examples, so they can gauge for themselves. Use the language in your job descriptions to attract the type of candidates you want. Avoid buzzwords that have lost their meaning, like “we’re a family” or “fast-paced environment”. Instead, use real examples from your indoor farm or agribusiness to showcase your culture.  Adding something like, “Sundays off to encourage a healthy work-life balance” or “company events to encourage comradery.”  Mentioning certain benefits such as “paid paternity time off for expectant mothers and/or fathers” is a great idea to show what you’re all about.

Go beyond just the compensation and insurance benefits. Do you offer opportunities for continuous learning? Do you have a rewards program or offer bonuses? Do you go beyond the industry standard with any of your benefits? Do you offer any flexibility in the off-season? Any range of benefits showcases how an organization treats its employees.

Conclusion

It’s a challenging time to hire agricultural candidates with so many factors for them to consider. While it can be challenging, there are ways to work through the obstacles and find quality employees to fill your team. It will take more work to publicize your job openings and reach out to candidates to attract them to your indoor farm or agribusiness.

Hiring can be tough, but AgHires is here to help you attract and find THE hire for your vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture organization. We are an industry-leading ag recruitment agency and job advertising company. We have an extensive network to help with everything from job advertising to full-service recruiting for your ag professional level and executive level positions. Contact us today to get started showcasing your indoor ag business.

Lori Culler AgHiresSpecial thanks to Lori Culler for this post.

Indoor Ag-Con 2023 speaker Lori (Lennard) Culler is the founder of AgHires, an online job board and recruiting firm dedicated to the Agriculture, Horticulture, and Food Production industry. AgHires offers job advertising, candidate sourcing, and full-service recruitment solutions for farms and agribusinesses across the U.S. and Canada.   Lori grew up on her family’s 3rd generation potato, tomato, and grain farm operating today across four states. After graduating from the University of Toledo with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management, she began working in human resources in both recruiting and management consulting. While hiring for her family’s operation, she quickly realized the lack of resources in the industry to find and attract talent which inspired her to launch AgHires.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr to Lead Keynote at CEA Summit East

DANVILLE, VA (SEPTEMBER 26, 2022) Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr will lead the CEA Summit East Day Two Keynote, “Reorienting Our Fresh Produce Supply Chain: Behind Virginia’s Push to Become A National Indoor Farming Industry Leader,” on Wednesday, October 26, 2022 at 9 am.  Indoor Ag-Con and the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Innovation Center — a joint project of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech, Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech, and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) – have partnered to co-host the new event from October 25-26, 2022 at the IALR Institute Conference Center in Danville, VA.

Secretary Lohr joins the CEA Summit East headliner keynote line-up, which also includes the opening morning kick-off session with AeroFarms CTO Roger Buelow on Tuesday, October 25.

During his keynote, Secretary Lohr will share insights into Virginia’s vision for the future of fresh produce and how he and his team are working with industry partners to achieve it.

“Rising transportation costs and droughts in the western United States will mean East Coast states like Virginia must reorient our supply chain for fresh produce to more local suppliers,” said Lohr during the recent  Grand Opening  of AeroFarms Danville,  the world’s largest aeroponic smart farm.

“While painful, this situation also creates an important opportunity for the Commonwealth to become a national leader in the fast-growing indoor farming industry. Continued success in recruiting and supporting the growth of these companies can bring economic opportunity to all corners of the Commonwealth, while also supplying fresh, safe, and sustainable food to our citizens and neighbors,” he added.

Matthew Lohr was raised on a Virginia century family farm in the Shenandoah Valley. As a fifth-generation farmer, he has spent his entire life working for the betterment of the agricultural industry and rural America.

He developed his passion for public service and agricultural policy while serving as both a state and national FFA officer before graduating from Virginia Tech with a B.S. degree in Agricultural Education. He has more than 30 years of experience as a professional leader and communicator.

Over the past two years, he has served as the Chief of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency with more than 10,000 employees across 3,000 field offices and an operating budget of over $4.5 billion.

“We are honored to have Secretary Lohr join us for the inaugural edition of the CEA Summit East,” says Dr. Michael Evans, Director of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech and Associate Director of the CEA Innovation Center.  “Virginia is deeply committed to  promoting and advancing the CEA sector and the work we’re doing offers ideas, examples and  exciting growth opportunities that extend far beyond our state borders. This promises to be an inspiring session for all our attendees.”

The new CEA Summit East is custom-tailored for new and well-seasoned CEA industry members from throughout the Eastern US, including indoor and greenhouse growers, facility owners and operators, educators, government officials, real estate developers, architects, construction specialists, sales and marketing teams and others.

During the one and one-half day event, industry members will have the opportunity to attend the conference featuring CEA thought leaders, researchers and experts leading keynotes, panels, and breakout sessions; explore tabletop exhibits presenting the latest CEA innovations and services; and enjoy a host of networking opportunities ranging from meals and coffee breaks to an evening social event.

Registration is now open for the event and attendees can save with discounted Early Bird rates when they register before October 7, 2022.  Learn more at www.ceasummit.com

Roger Buelow CTO

AeroFarms CTO Roger Buelow To Kick Off CEA Summit East With Opening Morning Keynote Address

DANVILLE, VA (SEPTEMBER 19, 2022) AeroFarms Chief Technology Officer Roger Buelow will lead the opening morning keynote address for the inaugural edition of the CEA Summit East, October 25-26, 2022.  Indoor Ag-Con and the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Innovation Center– a joint project of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech, Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech, and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) – have partnered to co-host the new event at the IALR Institute Conference Center in Danville, VA.

This announcement follows on the heels of the grand opening of AeroFarms Danville, the world’s largest aeroponic smart farm, capable of growing more than 3 million pounds of fresh leafy greens annually to meet increased consumer demand.

During his address on Tuesday morning, October 25, 2022 at 8:45 am, Buelow will share more about the new Danville farm and how it utilizes AeroFarms proprietary indoor vertical farming technology to grow more plants at the highest productivity per square foot with the least amount of natural resources – continuing AeroFarms legacy of continuous improvement and innovation.  In addition to the environmental benefits, Buelow will discuss benefits the farm brings to the Southern Virginia region ranging from job creation and year-round access to safe, fresh greens to hands-free farming with end-to-end automation from seeding to growing to harvest to packing.

In addition, he will also share updates on some of the exciting plant research and workforce development projects he and his team are working on with Virginia Tech, the IALR and the CEA Innovation Center.

As CTO, Roger Buelow leads the innovation and capabilities team for AeroFarms and works closely with R&D and Business Development. He is an LED innovator and engineering technologist with over 20 years of experience in government and the private sector. Roger previously served as CTO of Energy Focus (a publicly traded company) for ten years leading their R&D, Engineering, and Operations to refit the U.S. Navy with LEDs, develop lights that leverage blue light to help regulate sleep cycles, and to set the world’s record for most efficient solar cell.

Roger worked with AeroFarms in 2009 to help with lamp and fixture design, and he brings his extensive network and industry expertise with LEDs. He has been the principal investigator on over a dozen federally funded research contracts spanning military and civilian technologies and holds over 20 patents covering a wide array of technologies. Roger has brought over 50 products from concept, through R&D, into engineering, and then onto the open market. Roger has a B.S. in Mathematics and an M.S. in Systems and Control Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Learn more about this exciting keynote session and the full conference program here.

“Roger Buelow’s extensive experience and keen industry insights, coupled with the AeroFarms Danville-Pittsylvania story, come together to create the perfect program to kick off the new CEA Summit,” says Dr. Michael Evans, Director of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech and Associate Director of the CEA Innovation Center. “We are thrilled to have Roger join the keynote stage and know our audience will be eager to hear from him.”

The new CEA Summit East is custom-tailored for new and well-seasoned CEA industry members from throughout the Eastern US, including indoor and greenhouse growers, facility owners and operators, educators, government officials, real estate developers, architects, construction specialists, sales and marketing teams and others.

During the one and one-half day event, industry members will have the opportunity to attend the conference featuring CEA thought leaders, researchers and experts leading keynotes, panels, and breakout sessions; explore tabletop exhibits presenting the latest CEA innovations and services; and enjoy a host of networking opportunities ranging from meals and coffee breaks to an evening social event.

Registration is now open for the event and attendees can save with discounted Early Bird rates when they register before October 7, 2022.  Learn more at www.ceasummit.com

QUICK FACTS:
WHEN:                 Tuesday, October 25 – Wednesday, October 26, 2022
WHERE:              
IALR Institute Conference Center, 150 Slayton Ave, Danville, VA 24540
INFO:                    For information on exhibiting or attending visit www.ceasummit.com 

ABOUT INDOOR AG-CON
Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the premier trade event for indoor | vertical farming | controlled environment agriculture, the practice of growing crops in indoor systems, using hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic techniques. Its events are crop-agnostic and touch all sectors of the business, covering produce, legal cannabis |hemp, alternate protein and non-food crops. More information – www.indoor.ag | 404.991.5186

ABOUT THE SCHOOL OF PLANT AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES AT VIRGINIA TECH
The School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech trains the next generation of professionals in the fields of plant breeding and genetics, agronomic and horticultural crop production, plant protection, soil and water systems management, agricultural technologies, environmental restoration and agro-environmental stewardship.  It conducts research to improve agricultural productivity, reduce negative impacts on the environment and improve soil and water health.  Through extension programs, it provides science-based information to stakeholders to help them feed the world while protecting the environment.  More information —www.spes.vt.edu  

ABOUT THE VIRGINIA SEAFOOD AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AND EXTENSION CENTER AT VIRGINIA TECH
The Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech works to support the future of the historic seafood industry — in Virginia and beyond. Its extension specialists work with industry and research partners to identify and respond to emerging needs and provide technical guidance to stakeholders in every level of the seafood supply chain. Through technical assistance, training, process validation, value-added product development, and more, it helps stakeholders ensure product quality, safety, and viability. More information — www.arec.vaes.vt.edu

ABOUT IALR
The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) serves as a regional catalyst for economic transformation. Core focus areas include research that provides a clear path to commercialization, advanced learning opportunities where education meets experience, training and rapid-launch space for advanced manufacturers, and economic development through conferencing and a partnership with the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance. It is located in scenic and historic Danville-Pittsylvania County on the VA/NC state line, within a short drive of Roanoke, Greensboro and Raleigh.  More information –  www.ialr.org 

ABOUT AEROFARMS
Since 2004, AeroFarms has been leading the way for indoor vertical farming and championing transformational innovation for agriculture. On a mission to grow the best plants possible for the betterment of humanity, AeroFarms is a Certified B Corporation with global headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company two years in a row and one of TIME’s Best Inventions in Food, AeroFarms patented, award-winning indoor vertical farming technology provides the perfect conditions for healthy plants to thrive, taking agriculture to a new level of precision, food safety, and productivity while using up to 95% less water and no pesticides ever versus traditional field farming. AeroFarms enables local production to safely grow all year round, using vertical farming for elevated flavor.™ Its products can be found at major selling partners like Ahold Delhaize, Amazon Fresh, Baldor Specialty Food, Compass Group, Harris Teeter, Marcus BP, Momofuku Noodle Bars, ShopRite, The Fresh Market, Walmart, and Whole Foods Market. In addition, through its proprietary growing technology platform, AeroFarms has grown over 550 varieties of plants and has developed multi-year strategic partnerships ranging from government to major Fortune 500 companies to help uniquely solve agriculture supply chain needs. More information – www.aerofarms.com

 

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The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture Announces New Service to Assess Farm Operations Efficiency and Sustainability

The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture, a U.S. based company that supports the growth of the vertical and indoor farming industry, announced a new assessment service for farmers and investors to bench-mark the efficiency and sustainability of their indoor farm operations.

The new service helps indoor growers including plant factories and greenhouses measure how much land, energy, water, labor and materials are needed to produce yields. The assessment also calculates by-products such as solid waste and waste water, as well as capital use efficiency and job creation by the venture. At the end of the assessment, the respondent receives a report detailing the status of key parameters. Most importantly, key metrics are bench-marked against similar farms so growers can target areas for improvement. To get started, identify key records and contact the Center to set up an appointment to start. More info is available at https://indooragcenter.org/sustainable-farm-assess/. 

 

 

Eric W. Stein, Ph.D., founder and Executive Director of the Center of Excellence notes, “Indoor farming is a high-risk capital intensive endeavor. Operating efficiently and sustainably can make the difference between profitability and loss. We are excited to work with growers and investors to improve their operations thereby de-risking the venture. Because of its importance, we are offering this service at or below cost for a limited time.”

About The Center

The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture provides insights about the economics of indoor farming based on a careful analysis of industry data and thought leaders in industry and academia. As the first U.S.-based Center of Excellence dedicated to indoor farming, it promotes best practices, bench-marking, new knowledge and research. Its Best in Class Indoor Farming AwardsTM recognize top indoor growers and manufacturers. The Center is located in the Philadelphia metro region and it is free to join the mailing list.

Media Contact Information

Web: https://indooragcenter.org/ Email: team@indooragcenter.org

Blue Ridge Aquaculture

Widening The Net: World’s Largest Sustainable Indoor Fishery Eyes Aquaponics

Blue Ridge AquacultureAs we gear up for the new CEA Summit East next month, we’re excited to spotlight exhibitor and sponsor Martinsville, Virgina-based Blue Ridge Aquaculture, the world’s largest sustainable indoor fishery. We had the chance to catch up with company President Martin Gardner in this month’s Q & A to learn more about Blue Ridge Aquaculture’s sustainable business model, practices, and plans to incorporate aquaponics into its operations in the future.

Blue Ridge Aquaculture is described as the “world’s largest sustainable indoor fisheries.” Can you share more about your recirculating aquaculture systems and your sustainable features and practices

Blue Ridge Aquaculture (BRA) was founded by Bill Martin on the idea that controlling the entire farming environment was the logical evolution of aquaculture.  He formed the company in 1993, and has grown it to its current production of 5mm pounds per year. As far as we know, that is the largest production volume from these types of systems.  The company raises tilapia from hatch to harvest, all contained in indoor farming systems, or Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS).

The US lags far behind many other countries in the aquaculture production, currently ranking 17th in total output.  The US is not competitive for several reasons, including but not limited to stringent environmental regulations, NIMBY attitudes, and high labor costs, all of which are solved by RAS.  Bringing the entire process into a controlled environment, we manage all inputs and outflows from our operations.  With much better bio-security, we have not had an outbreak or disease event in twenty years.  In fact, we have been certified disease free by independent fish veterinarians every year since 2013.

We are able to accomplish this without the use of antibiotics, vaccines or hormones, and still maintain survival rates above 95%.  Our filtration systems recycle approximately 75% of our water daily, and we are working on a secondary filtration system that will drive those rates to +95%.  We don’t discharge our effluent to our local environment, all of it goes to the municipal system for further treatment.  From a land-use perspective, it would require at least 300 acres of open aquaculture ponds to produce what we raise on a 15 acre campus.  Because most of the seafood consumed in the US is imported (+90%), our US operations greatly reduce food-miles.  These are just some of the sustainable benefits of our system.

We understand you’re exploring expansion into aquaponics – can you share more about your plans

Aquaponics - Blue Ridge AquacultureAquaponics is an obvious extension of our current operations, and we have been working towards adding this component to our operations for some time. We have performed several small-scale R&D projects over the years, with favorable results.

But, with limited resources, we had to prioritize other capital projects, including a new feed mill commissioned in 2018, and a new RAS Nursery in 2021.  With those projects complete, we can now focus on aquaponics.

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR)  and Indoor Ag-Con are excited to have Blue Ridge Aquaculture join us as a silver sponsor for the upcoming CEA Summit.  Can you share a little more about what you hope to achieve at the event?

Blue Ridge AquacultureBlue Ridge Aquaculture has a long history in the US Aquaculture and the global RAS community.  It is important for us to build that same presence in this industry.  We will continue to support Virginia as a leader in CEA and AgTech.  Virginia Tech has been a tremendous resource for our company assisting our growth and development over the years.  We anticipate Virginia Tech and the IALR will be an important asset as we grow into  this space as well.  Because of that collaboration, it was important for us to support their outreach efforts and this conference.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

It’s important to point out the importance of vertical integration in our company.  BRA has positioned itself as the most integrated RAS company in the world.  Originally this was out of necessity.  In the early years, RAS was more of an academic practice with few commercial operations.  Suppliers of inputs to the farm were focused on open system aquaculture, and did not provide the quality necessary for RAS.

The company originally sourced fingerlings from external suppliers, which were of average quality and more importantly, a vector for disease.  In 1997, the company started its own hatchery/nursery.  The positive impacts were immediate, and production volumes grew quickly.  That was also the beginning of the company’s genetic program, which is currently in its 20th generation, and a key factor in the company’s success.  Distribution was also a problem and risk for the company.

So in 2003, the company created a wholly owned subsidiary for the dedicated delivery of all of its product-  problems solved.  In 2017, the company built its own feed mill to control the quality and supply of feed for all operations.  That gave us control over our biggest operating input.

We understand that “sustainable” refers to environmental and social aspects of the operations.  But financial sustainability must be a part of the business plan.  BRA is one of the few RAS companies that has sustained profitability for many years.  Vertical integration has been key to this success, but, more importantly, de-risks our operations to ensure it remains financially sustainable into the future.

To learn more about Blue Ridge Aquaculture, visit the company website here.   And, make plans now to just us at the inaugural CEA Summit East, October 24-25, 2022.  The event is produced by Indoor Ag-Con and the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center, a partnership between the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech , the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). 

 

Dr. Scott Lowman CEA Innovation Center

Q&A With CEA Innovation Center Director Dr. Scott Lowman

‘A Catalyst and Hub for CEA Companies and Technology’

 

CEA Innovation Center.IALRWe recently announced the new partnership between Indoor Ag-Con and the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Innovation Center – a joint project of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Advanced Learning And Research (IALR) –to launch the CEA Summit East from October25-26, 2022.

The CEA Innovation Center is an incredible resource for our industry. We had the chance to catch up with Dr. Scott Lowman, the Center’s Director, to learn more about the exciting research projects he and his team are working on; the benefits of hosting the new Summit at this research facility; and other ways the Center is serving CEA industry members.

Tell us a little about the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center and its primary goals

The Virginia Tech-IALR Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Innovation Center was created to leverage the resources of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech along with the biotechnology, technology, and analytical chemistry capabilities of IALR to move the CEA field forward. The Center offers a one-stop shop for many cutting-edge research projects and is a wonderful vehicle to support and attract industry partners. Part of the initiative is to also serve as a catalyst and hub for CEA companies and technology, and we are already helping to create an ecosystem around CEA innovation with some leading-edge projects in waste recycling, nutrient management, imaging and data analysis, and biotechnology. All of this will be facilitated by the CEA Summit East on October 25-26.

 

Can you share any highlights of some of the research projects you and your team are currently working on

CEA Innovation Center.IALR2We have lots of exciting research projects happening at the moment, both internally to fuel innovation, as well as contract research to support and help solve industry challenges. There are a couple I can mention.

One project focuses on biostimulant use to increase yield in hydroponic systems. This project, supported by a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Specialty Crop Grant, focuses on using bacterial endophytes, or beneficial bacteria that live inside of plants, that have proven to promote plant growth naturally in the lab and in vertical systems. Our initial data indicate exciting potential!

Another project is focused on using imaging and robotics to monitor plant growth and health. Using our in-house developed SMART tables, we are able to pinpoint tiny changes in plant growth and health during cultivation. One experiment can generate 80,000 images!

 

The partnership with Indoor Ag-Con to host the newly announced CEA Summit East is one example of how you’re serving the region’s growers and CEA industry members. What differentiates this new event from other CEA conferences?

IALR Campus bird's eye viewWhen we launched the Center, one of the many opportunities we were excited about was our ability to leverage our state-of-the-art conferencing center here at IALR to bring industry and academia together through hosting conferences and workshops focusing on CEA. With the CEA industry growing in Virginia, the location of the Summit is near the stakeholders that the Center is striving to serve.

Additionally, it is very unique in that the conference will be held in a research facility. This is certainly a break from typical conferences based from hotel conference centers. Attendees can see firsthand our cutting-edge research projects happening now, as well as explore ideas for collaborations with our VT and IALR researchers on-site.

What’s next for the CEA Innovation Center

CEA Innovation CenterThe CEA Innovation Center is growing rapidly, and we are always on the lookout for mutually beneficial partnerships in research and education, including contract research opportunities.

The biggest endeavor on the horizon, however, is most certainly the CEA Summit East! While lots of research is going on behind the scenes, we are thrilled about partnering with Indoor Ag-Con to bring together both academia and industry for a first-class event here in Danville, Virginia.

Learn more about the CEA Summit here and make plans now to join us!

FarmBabyz

New farm babyZ Program Cultivates Growers As Young as 2 Years Old

“farm babyZ is causing a groundswell by developing our next generation of sustainable urban growers,” says farm babyZ Founder Recie Robertson.  “We want to make hydroponic indoor growing available for all.”

Farm Babyz 2farm babyZ LLC, a STEM.org Reviewed ™ organization, has created and packaged an educational hydroponic growers curriculum and American-made merchandise/grow kit for early childhood development agencies and other educators working with children between the ages of two to five years old.

As outlined in its mission statement, “The farm babyZ LLC pre-STEM program is committed to developing an academic understanding of science and agricultural development.  To achieve this goal, we support student learning by offering a concise and elementary program designed to help all preschoolers meet the Stem academic standards.”

Farm Babyz3

 

 

“We created farm babyZ with food deserts in mind,” explains Robertson.  “In these areas, we’re trying to help change unhealthy eating habits brought on by land restrictions for growing everything from fruits to vegetables.  By building a community through educating  our youths and connecting people around life-giving plants  –from 2-5 years old – on up to the 92+age shut-in population – we hope to reap countless therapeutic benefits from family bonding, to mentor relationships and facilitate cross generational interaction.”

For more information on farm babyZ, contact Recie Robertson at 313.737.8115 or recie@ONE5Consulting.com 

 

Netled CEO Niko Kivioja

‘Any Step Closer to Climate Neutrality Is An Important One’ | Q&A With Netled CEO Niko Kivioja   

Netled_IndoorAgContentVertical farming technology provider Netled and its client, Swedish herb supplier OMG (Oh My Greens), recently launched the first industrial-scale vertical farm delivering Climate Neutral Certified herbs from seed to shelf.  Indoor Ag-Con had the chance to catch up with Netled CEO Niko Kivioja to learn more about this exciting project, why it’s so important, and what’s on the horizon for this innovative company in this month’s CEO Q&A.

Why did OMG Choose Netled’s VERA® Technology for its new industrial scale vertical farm?

Swedish herb supplier OMG (Oh My Greens) produces 2.7 million heads of herbs annually for ICA, the leading grocery retailer in Sweden. Building a major facility with that kind of production capacity is very complex. OMG needed a technology provider who truly understands the technology and also has the experience and project delivery capabilities to carry out a project of that scale.

Oh My Greens industrial scale facility.indooragcontentWe call ourselves the one-stop shop for vertical farming, which means that on top of our proprietary Vera® technology we offer all services and support needed to build a commercially viable vertical farming business. This means we provide our customers with the design and planning of their facility, we ship the equipment, and we build, install and commission the farm. We support our customers in getting their farm up to production volumes. We also provide a five-year maintenance agreement to ensure the technology performs optimally.

It can be challenging to combine technology and services from different companies and ensure they work smoothly together. Plus you have to manage the various companies involved in the project. With Netled, you get the entire package under one roof. It’s simpler for the customer because all the various bits and pieces you need to build an industrial-scale vertical farm work seamlessly together. In a facility the size of the OMG project, those bits and pieces amount to around 120 000. So it’s no small feat.

OMG really did their homework in selecting a vertical farming partner. They will tell you themselves that they looked at 17 different providers before choosing Netled. They said that we are years ahead of the competition in terms of technology, know-how, and delivery capabilities. We are honored by that recognition.

What attracted you/Netled to the OMG project

OMG has the same level of ambition as we do: they want to succeed at vertical farming at an industrial scale and continue to grow from there. Our Vera® vertical farming technology is designed in a way that it’s scalable according to the customers’ needs and business case. The size and ambition of OMG’s project was perfect for our technology and service offerings. The growing area is about 25 800 square feet (2400 m2), and it is a big difference to make the automation work smoothly in that volume compared to smaller units.

Oh My Greens Vera vertical farm 2.indooragcontent
Photo Credit: ICA

We are also impressed by the fact that OMG’s customer is ICA, the largest retailer in Sweden. It is a very important step for us that such a significant player in the food retail industry takes a step towards vertically farmed products and sells them under their private label. Like us, they want to be at the forefront of developing a sustainable food system for the future.

We are very happy to see this development happening with big players like ICA, and we think it’s a good sign for the entire CEA industry. Vertically farmed produce is becoming more and more mainstream, and consumers will soon learn more about the benefits of this production method. Netled carried out consumer research this spring, and we found that only 11 % of Finnish consumers really knew what vertical farming was about. However, 95 % of the respondents were willing to buy vertically farmed products after learning more about the production method and its benefits.

It is clear that when major retailers incorporate vertically farmed products into their own store brand, it will open new conversations for us as technology providers.

The farm is described as the ‘first vertical farm in the world delivering Climate Neutral Certified herbs from seed to shelf.’  Can you share more about this designation and why it’s so important.

Oh My Greens Vera vertical farm.IndoorAgContent
Photo Credit: ICA

We are all in this battle against climate change together, and any step closer to climate neutrality is an important one for both OMG and Netled.

OMG is the first vertical cultivation in the world to deliver Climate Neutral Certified herbs following the Climate Neutral Certification programme. The owner of the standard is The Climate Neutral Group, a member of ICROA, the International Carbon Reduction & Offsetting Alliance. They follow strict criteria in terms of Verified Emission Reductions (VERs), and verification is carried out by independent, internationally recognized agencies.

Within this certificate, climate neutrality means both CO2 footprint reduction and compensation. OMG calculates their emissions footprint on a granular level including ingredients, storage, production, packaging, mobility, and upstream and downstream logistics until the products reach the shelf. The facility is built in an old steel factory and it operates with renewable energy: wind power. The remaining CO2 emissions are compensated by supporting an NGO’s agroforestry project of 214 hectares in India. The ultimate goal is to reduce the emissions every year until they reach a 0-emission supply chain.

Netled_WEB_4.indooragcontentNetled’s Vera® technology is designed to be as energy and resource-efficient as possible using up to 70% less energy and up to 95% less water than traditional indoor agriculture. It also allows customers to grow 2.5 times more crops in the same amount of space as greenhouse growing.

OMG’s vision is a world where food production is truly sustainable, and we as their technology provider are working towards the same goal. We are constantly striving to reduce emissions and this will be a work in progress as we develop our technology and processes.

What’s next for Netled – any other projects of this scale or other developments on the horizon?

We recently opened our first North American Vera® vertical farm as part of the launch of Netled North America in Calgary, Canada. The vertical farm in Calgary is a showcase facility for North American customers who want to see our Vera® technology firsthand. The demo unit features the same Vera® technology, but on a smaller scale. It will allow potential customers to see the technology up close and discuss their requirements with our experienced team in Calgary.

Netled_WEB_3.indooragcontentIn terms of other projects, we have just finished commissioning a compact-size Vera® farm in Poland, and we are currently building another industrial-scale facility in the Nordics. We are in the negotiating phase with other clients on some very exciting commercial-scale projects in Europe and North America, stay tuned for more details!

Learn more about Netled by visiting the company’s website — www.netled.fi

UA-CEAC NCERA Meeting

2022 NCERA-101 Annual | International Meeting

Indoor Ag-Con Marketing Partner, the  University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center , is pleased to invite you to attend the 2022 International Meeting of the NCERA-101 Committee on Controlled Environment Technology & Use. The conference is being held at the Marriott University Park Hotel located on The University of Arizona main campus, Tucson, Arizona. Tucson is home to The University of Arizona and is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, making it the first city in the United States of America to be honored with this designation.

Conference Registration 

Click HERE to register for the event. If you are coming with a spouse/partner (non-delegate) you may choose to include them in our Gala Dinner & Technical Tour day activities. Simply purchase Guest Gala Dinner and Technical Tour tickets for them to join these activities. Conference registration is separate from the hotel booking. Registration ends by 5 PM (MT) on August 22nd, 2022. 

Accommodations 

Meeting attendees are welcome to stay at Marriott University Park Hotel. If you choose to do so, please book your room by August 22nd, 2022 to take advantage of a discounted conference rate of $139 per night. The rooms are available on a first-come first-served basis, so we encourage attendees to make their reservations as soon as possible. Register for hotel rooms HERE 

Please see the full meeting program HERE 

Katie Seawell Bowery Farming

Resiliency, Sustainability, Smart Farms: Q & A With Bowery Farming CCO Katie Seawell

Bowery FarmingFrom the recent opening of its largest, most technologically advanced sustainable commercial smart farm in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to its expansion into fruiting and vine crops with the launch of new strawberry varieties , Bowery Farming has been making a lot of headlines lately.

Indoor Ag-Con had the opportunity to catch up with Katie Seawell, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of the largest vertical farming company in the U.S, to get her thoughts on CEA industry trends and learn more about Bowery’s innovations, programs and mission to grow food smarter, sustainably, for more people, in more places.

What trend(s) are you seeing as it relates to how/why retailers are investing in CEA?

Investment in CEA comes down to two words: resiliency and sustainability. The past two years have made it painfully clear that climate change, global events, and supply chain disruption all have an enormous impact on our food systems. We need resiliency now more than ever before. By growing indoors, 365 days a year, with zero impact from drought, wildfires, or extreme temperatures, Bowery is growing a resilient supply of pesticide-free produce. And not only resilient, but predictable and reliable—we know, and therefore retailers know, exactly how much produce to expect, which cuts down on food waste.

Retailers and consumers are knowledgeable about where food comes from, and are investing in CEA for its sustainability practices. Bowery farms are powered 100% by renewable energy and cut down food miles drastically.

A product that is both good for the planet and more reliable is a powerful investment for retailers.

Can you share details around Bowery’s new partnership with the Nature Conservancy and what you hope to achieve through that relationship?

Bowery and Nature Conservancy Partnership

Bowery partnered with The Nature Conservancy to spread the word about #Rewilding—a movement committed to restoring degraded farmland and forests. A pack takeover during Earth Month and beyond included a QR code, available in over 1,000 grocery stores, to connect customers to information on actionable sustainability and restoration efforts, such as supporting The Nature Conservancy’s ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ campaign.

In addition to pledging to restore 50 acres in the U.S., in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Bowery sought to raise awareness about Rewilding, and spotlight what is possible when we give Mother Earth a break – allowing land to ‘Rewild’. Our packs featured cutouts of six animals, such as the Louisiana Black Bear, which was recently delisted as an endangered species thanks to conservation efforts.

The missions of Bowery and TNC meet in this partnership, as Rewilding and indoor vertical farming are both part of the solution to address global challenges from climate change to ecosystem biodiversity to feeding growing populations. When we grow inside, we can restore outside.

Congrats on the recent opening of your newest farm in Bethlehem, PA. It’s described as Bowery’s largest, most technologically advanced & sustainable commercial smart farm. Can you share why you chose the Bethlehem site and how this newest farm fits into Bowery’s growth strategy?

Bowery Bethlehem PABethlehem represents the next chapter in climate-smart agriculture at Bowery. The Bethlehem Farm, once a non-arable industrial site, is now modern farmland. This transformation from brownfield to vertical farm means that fresh, healthy food is now being grown, year-round, where it was previously thought no food would ever grow again.

This commercial farm is also a blueprint for Bowery. It features a replicable system that will allow us to grow food wherever and whenever it is needed. The farm is powered with 100% renewable energy and features 15% more efficient LED lighting. Bowery’s Bethlehem Farm will bring fresh produce to a population of 50-million people within a 200-mile radius.

We chose Bethlehem for several reasons: to meet regional demand for pesticide-free, local produce grown sustainably; to further our mission of democratizing access to reliable, healthy produce; and to help fight the climate crisis by building resilient regional food systems on previously non-arable land. What was once the flagship site of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation is now, in part, a modern farm that will help feed the community.

Tell us a little more about aGirlculture, the women’s development network you co-founded at Bowery and serve as the group’s executive sponsor.

AGIRLCulture at Bowery FarmingOver the course of my career, so many talented women leaders helped shape and inspire my path. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their encouragement and support. This background, where women fiercely support one another, led me to co-found aGirlculture at Bowery. The group brings together women of all levels to connect with peers and senior leaders. We’re creating a space for mentorship and other opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Our programming has included guest speakers, roundtable discussions, International Women’s Day celebrations, and more. During the height of the pandemic, we moved forward with our programming over Zoom.

It’s been very rewarding to build a space where rich discussions can happen, where we can dig into culturally relevant topics for women and lay the foundation for women to advocate for each other. And we’re just getting started.

Before joining Bowery, you were with Starbucks where you held a number of senior leadership roles in branding, marketing and product development. Can you share any lessons learned or challenges from your time at Starbucks that have helped you in your role at Bowery?

Two main lessons learned come to mind. First, Starbucks instilled in me a deep belief that we are all stewards of our planet, and that it is our responsibility to care for the environment to the best of our ability. This value led me to Bowery and guides the urgency I feel when it comes to our sustainability goals.

Second, my time at Starbucks taught me that the private sector cannot be a bystander when it comes to the challenges of climate change. Businesses need to put full weight and resources behind sustainability to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. By making responsible decisions to build sustainable models, we can solve really hard problems.

What’s next for Bowery?

Bethlehem Farm Bowery FarmingThe Bethlehem Farm, our Smart Farm of the Future, is a model for what’s next at Bowery. We have two additional farms under construction in Locust Grove, Georgia and Arlington, Texas and we’re on track to double our number of farms by 2023, with the goal of helping to alleviate the strains insecurity puts on the U.S. food supply and economy.

We’re also committed to innovation: our R&D team is continuing the diversification of our pesticide-free produce portfolio, unlocking new possibilities and flavors in food. This includes more SKUs in addition to leafy greens and herbs, such as strawberries and other fruiting and vine crops.

We envision a Bowery smart farm in every city in the U.S. and ultimately the entire world, and we’re on the growth trajectory to achieve just that.

For more information, visit the Bowery website — https://boweryfarming.com/