Q&A With CEA Innovation Center Director Dr. Scott Lowman
‘A Catalyst and Hub for CEA Companies and Technology’
We 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
We 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?
When 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
The 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!