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Integration, Efficiency, and the Future of CEA: Q&A With Microclimates Founder Neda Vaseghi

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is experiencing rapid growth, driven by technological advancements. At the forefront of this innovation is Microclimates, a platform that unifies various CEA systems, offering a holistic view of operations. By integrating data and controls from different sources, Microclimates helps growers improve productivity, manage resources efficiently, and ensure high-quality yields. In our conversation, Microclimates Founder Neda Vaseghi shares how their solutions are paving the way for sustainable and scalable CEA practices, setting new industry standards in California and beyond.

Microclimates IntegrationQ: The MicroClimates  software platform integrates various aspects of controlled environment agriculture, such as lighting, climate control and irrigation.  Can you explain how this integration benefits greenhouse operators and vertical farm growers in terms of productivity, quality, and efficiency?

At Microclimates, our vision from the start has been to provide a hardware-agnostic and user-friendly interface. Over the years, we have partnered with numerous companies to offer both wired and wireless (LoRaWAN) solutions. Staying true to our hardware-agnostic approach, we have developed a robust technology platform that integrates with various systems and programming languages.

Integrating the various aspects, can significantly benefit greenhouse operator and vertical farm growers in the following ways:

  • Improve productivity & streamline operation: By unifying siloed systems onto a single platform, we are able to streamline data integration for continuous improvement. These controls monitor conditions, facilitate inter-system communication, and provide a comprehensive facility-level view. This allows everyone to observe how mission-critical systems respond. Greater efficiency is achieved through ongoing engagement with data from integrated controls and analysis platforms. Alerts and reports offer insights to help growers update Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and control sequences. As changes are implemented, benchmarking key performance indicators can verify improvements. Over time, more systems can be integrated and controlled from the unified platform, enabling remote control and automation for seamless decision-making across all systems. Like an orchestra, these systems work together harmoniously for optimal performance.
  • Resource Management: The Microclimates system offers sub-metering energy monitoring, enabling operators to track energy consumption of specific components like lighting and HVAC systems. This data, combined with local utility peak demand hours and fees, allows for operational adjustments to support energy savings. Optimizing lighting schedules and intensities reduces electricity consumption, while precise climate control minimizes the energy required for heating, cooling, and ventilation. Additionally, automated and precise irrigation systems reduce water waste and ensure that nutrients are delivered in the right amounts at the right time, enhancing resource use efficiency and reducing costs.
  • Data Today & Data Tomorrow: Data-Driven decisions are at the core of integrated software platforms, which not only collect and analyze data from various sensors and control systems but also empower growers to make insightful decisions for their operation today. By harnessing this data-driven approach, operators can identify trends and adjust strategies proactively to optimize growth conditions, enhancing productivity and quality. Moreover, the collected data serves as a valuable resource for future advancements, enabling machine learning and AI applications to further revolutionize CEA. Recognizing that data is power, the platform emphasizes the importance of collecting heterogeneous data from various sources, laying the foundation for the intelligent automation of the future, including machine learning & AI.
  • Scalable Growth With Cost Efficiency: The system is designed with scalability in mind, allowing it to grow alongside an operation. An operator can start their integration journey with one or two systems and expand as needed, ensuring that the system evolves with their business. This flexibility is crucial for keeping operational costs affordable, especially when competing with outdoor agriculture prices. By integrating various aspects of controlled environment agriculture, the system makes it easier to scale operations without a proportional increase in labor or operational expenses. As the operation grows, the software adeptly manages the increased complexity, facilitating a seamless expansion while maintaining a close watch on OPEX. This approach ensures that efficiency and cost-effectiveness are prioritized, supporting sustainable growth for greenhouse operators and vertical farm growers.
  • Quality: Quality is a key benefit of integrated systems, which provide uniform conditions that result in consistent plant quality. Each plant receives the same care, leading to uniform size, taste, and appearance, crucial for meeting market standards. By minimizing environmental stress through precise control, plants are less likely to develop diseases or pests, resulting in healthier crops with better nutritional profiles and longer shelf lives. Additionally, the ability to tailor the environment to specific crops or growth stages, such as vegetative or flowering, allows growers to maximize the quality of a diverse range of plants.

MicroclimatesYour collaboration with ERI for the CalNEXT study on the benefits of integrated control systems for greenhouses and indoor farms is an exciting initiative.  How do you envision these findings shaping the future of controlled environment agriculture in California and beyond?

The findings from our collaboration with ERI on the CalNEXT study have the potential to significantly transform the CEA industry in California and set a precedent for similar advancements globally. By focusing on the integration of smart controls for lighting, HVAC, and irrigation systems, we aim to demonstrate substantial energy savings and operational efficiencies in greenhouses and indoor farms.

Overall, the findings from the CalNEXT study will be instrumental in driving the future of controlled environment agriculture by promoting sustainable practices, reducing energy consumption, and improving crop productivity. This project represents a significant step towards achieving California’s climate goals and setting a benchmark for global agricultural practices.

Here is more detail in how we envision the study might shape the future of CEA. I certainly hope it’s the first of many studies on this topic.

Impact on California’s CEA Industry:

  1. Energy Efficiency and Cost Reduction: The implementation of smart environmental controls will enable growers to optimize their resource usage, thereby reducing energy consumption and operational costs. This is crucial in California, where energy prices are high, and there is a strong emphasis on sustainability and reducing carbon footprints. We must identify ways to reduce our energy consumption in CEA. A lot of emphasis has been placed on LED lights, including rebates. Very little on integrated controls.
  2. Enhanced Crop Yields and Quality: Intelligent control systems provide precise monitoring and adjustments to environmental conditions, ensuring optimal growth conditions for crops. This can lead to higher yields and improved quality of produce, benefiting both growers and consumers.
  3. New Utility Rebate Programs: The goal for the  study is to identify new rebate programs for utilities to support the adoption of these technologies. This financial incentive will encourage more growers to invest in smart control systems, accelerating the adoption rate and broadening the impact across the state.

Broader Implications:

  1. Scalability and Replicability: The technology roadmap and insights gained from this study will serve as a model for other regions and countries. The demonstrated benefits in California can be replicated in other areas facing similar challenges, promoting global advancements in CEA.
  2. Innovation and Industry Standards: By collaborating with leaders such as Cornell University GLASE consortium & ERI, we are setting new standards for energy efficiency and sustainability in CEA. This collaboration fosters innovation and encourages the development of next-generation technologies that can further enhance the industry.
  3. Equity and Inclusion: CalNEXT is committed to ensuring that all Californians benefit from clean and healthy environments. The insights from this study will help us identify ways to support equity and inclusion in delivering these technologies, ensuring that small and disadvantaged growers also have access to the benefits of smart environmental controls.

MicroclimatesWith an extensive background in food safety – and considering your upcoming speaking role at the CEA Summit in Virginia – what do you see as the most critical food safety challenges currently facing the indoor agriculture industry? And, how does MicroClimates’ technology contribute to enhancing food safety in CEA operations?

 

The most critical food safety challenges in indoor agriculture revolve around pathogen control, water quality, cross-contamination, and traceability.

Often, the challenge is exacerbated because food safety is not adequately addressed during the design or build-out phase of agricultural facilities. When buildings and irrigation systems are not designed with food safety in mind, it becomes a much larger challenge to implement effective monitoring & management protocols. As for traceability, effective traceability systems are crucial in indoor agriculture for quickly identifying and containing contamination incidents. By tracking produce from seed to sale, these systems ensure compliance with regulatory standards like Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and facilitate swift recall management when necessary. This capability enhances transparency across the supply chain, bolstering consumer confidence in product safety and quality. Robust traceability not only safeguards public health by enabling precise removal of affected batches but also preserves the industry’s reputation for reliability and responsibility in food safety practices.

In 2006, a spinach recall due to contamination with E. coli bacteria significantly impacted consumer confidence and sales. The outbreak, linked to spinach grown in California, resulted in over 200 reported illnesses across multiple states, with several cases of severe illness and even deaths. This incident led to a widespread recall of spinach products from grocery stores nationwide, causing financial losses for growers and distributors alike and prompting consumers to avoid spinach products for a period.

Similarly, in 2011, a cantaloupe recall was initiated due to a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak traced to a farm in Colorado. The contaminated cantaloupes were linked to numerous illnesses and deaths across multiple states. The outbreak had severe consequences for the cantaloupe industry, with consumers avoiding purchases due to concerns over food safety. This led to a decline in sales and financial losses for growers and distributors, highlighting the devastating impact of foodborne illness outbreaks on consumer trust and market demand.

These recalls underscore the critical importance of robust food safety practices, including traceability systems, to quickly identify and remove contaminated products from the market. Such incidents serve as reminders of the need for stringent adherence to food safety standards and continuous efforts to maintain consumer confidence in the safety and quality of agricultural products.

Microclimates’ technology focuses on environmental automation. We have developed an easy-to-deploy mapping application that allows companies to upload a map, blueprint, or any image of their facility into the platform. This application can overlay various types of data onto these maps. Currently, we specialize in displaying environmental data, such as temperature and humidity. However, our platform is designed for integration and we welcome partnerships with companies interested in overlaying food safety data onto their facility maps. Tracking food safety data alongside environmental metrics can provide a comprehensive view of facility conditions, enhancing the ability to monitor and manage both environmental and food safety parameters effectively.

Overall, currently, our platform’s impact on food safety in CEA is limited. However, I am optimistic that we can identify customers who are eager and have the capacity to delve into integrating and aligning food safety protocols with our environmental automation capabilities. This proactive approach will enable us to enhance our platform’s contribution to ensuring safe and secure agricultural practices in controlled environments.

Microclimates Energy SavingsGiven your years of experience across various facets of the industry, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the CEA sector today? How is MicroClimates positioning itself to address these?

Challenges:

  • Energy Consumption: One of the biggest challenges is energy consumption. CEA facilities often require significant energy for lighting, HVAC, and other systems. Lighting and HVAC alone consume about 70% of the energy. Managing and reducing energy consumption while maintaining optimal growing conditions is a major challenge. At Microclimates, we have launched a sub-metering energy monitoring wireless solution to address this issue. This allows operators to input their peak demand utility fees while measuring the energy consumption of their facility at a granular level. For example, our solution enables the differentiation of energy usage for specified periods of lighting versus HVAC or down to the equipment level—information that cannot be gathered simply from a utility bill. Understanding consumption and costs at such a granular level can be an eye-opener. This detailed information can be used to make modifications, resulting in significant cost savings.
  • Initial investments: Another challenge is the initial investment and ongoing costs associated with setting up advanced CEA systems, including infrastructure, technology, and automation. At Microclimates, we have stayed hardware agnostic, allowing our platform to integrate seamlessly with both existing environmental systems and new ones. As hardware prices continue to decline, our hardware-agnostic approach enables us to offer a very affordable entry fee for automation. This flexibility helps clients start with a cost-effective solution and scale their systems as needed over time, without being tied to specific hardware vendors. This approach not only reduces initial investment costs but also provides the adaptability required for long-term growth and efficiency.
  • Connectivity: To enable remote environmental monitoring and controls, operators rely heavily on solid internet connectivity. This model typically thrives in urban areas or developed regions where robust internet infrastructure is readily available. However, a significant challenge lies in ensuring that the benefits of advanced agricultural technology extend to underserved communities and bridging the digital divide. At Microclimates, we recognize this challenge and have partnered with edge computing hardware solutions to extend connectivity to areas with limited internet access. Through this partnership, we aim to first lay the foundation for connectivity and subsequently introduce automation solutions tailored for both indoor and outdoor farms. By addressing connectivity barriers, we can empower all farmers, regardless of their location, to leverage cutting-edge technology for enhanced efficiency and productivity.

 

Opportunities:

  1. Technological Advancements: A significant opportunity in the CEA sector lies in technological advancements, particularly in LED lighting, HVAC systems, automation, and AI. Innovations in LED lighting and HVAC systems can greatly enhance energy efficiency and boost crop yields, making production more sustainable and cost-effective. Additionally, the integration of automation and AI technologies can optimize growing conditions, reduce labor costs, and increase scalability, allowing for more consistent and higher quality outputs. Microclimates Inc. is capitalizing on this opportunity by not only integrating various technological silos into a common user interface but also collecting vast amounts of data to support ongoing intelligent automation. This comprehensive approach ensures the continuous improvement and sustainability of CEA operations, setting a new standard for the industry both today and in the future.
  2. Sustainability and environmental impact: Both are key advantages of CEA systems, which typically use significantly less water than traditional agriculture, addressing critical water scarcity issues. CEA also supports urban agriculture initiatives, reducing food miles and providing fresh produce to urban populations. Environmental automation plays a crucial role in these advancements by optimizing resource usage and minimizing waste, leading to more sustainable indoor farming practices. Additionally, Microclimates Inc. enhances these benefits by offering sub-metering energy monitoring, enabling continuous improvement in lowering energy consumption. This comprehensive approach not only boosts the sustainability of CEA operations but also sets a new standard for efficient and responsible indoor farming practices.
  3. Year-round production: CEA ensures a consistent supply of fresh produce, independent of seasonal changes. This is particularly crucial given my years in food safety and firsthand experience with the challenges posed by climate instability in Salinas, CA, which impacts all agricultural products, including almonds. With CEA, we have a real opportunity to make a difference by maintaining a stable supply chain despite external environmental fluctuations. Microclimates Inc. plays a pivotal role in this by offering scheduling for seasonal automation and data analytics, enabling the replication of successful production cycles. This capability not only supports continuous and reliable production but also enhances the overall sustainability and efficiency of indoor farming practices.

MicroclimatesYour passion for innovation and sustainability is evident.  What is your long-term vision for Microclimates, and how do you plan to continue driving innovation in the indoor growing sector to create value for customers, partners & stakeholders?

 

Thank you for recognizing our passion for innovation and sustainability. At Microclimates, our long-term vision revolves around pioneering advancements in the indoor growing sector that enhance productivity, efficiency, and sustainability. We are committed to driving innovation by expanding our integrations with as many companies as possible, fostering collaboration even with competitors to create a unified industry ecosystem rather than silos. Our goal is to broaden our integration portfolio to support the entire industry and facilitate seamless operations for our customers, partners, and stakeholders.

Data analytics will be pivotal in our strategy, leveraging big data and AI-driven insights to revolutionize crop forecasting, optimize yield management, and enable predictive maintenance. This approach empowers our customers to make informed, data-driven decisions that enhance operational efficiency and maximize profitability.

Additionally, we are deeply invested in two specific areas: academia and underserved communities. We plan to continue our close collaboration with academia to drive technological advancements in CEA, ensuring we remain at the forefront of innovation. Simultaneously, we are committed to partnering with companies that share our values in addressing the needs of underserved communities, using our technology to promote food security and sustainability.

By focusing on these initiatives, Microclimates aims to lead the way in sustainable indoor growing practices while fostering collaboration, innovation, and social responsibility across the industry. Together with our partners and stakeholders, we are dedicated to shaping the future of CEA through technology and inclusive community support.

Learn more about Microclimates here.

 

 

 

Indoor Ag-Con 2024 Features Shark Tank Entrepreneur

Running March 11 & 12, the Indoor Ag-Con is the largest vertical farming/controlled environment agricultural gathering. One of the new Exhibitors this year was featured on ABC Shark Tank’s popular 100th Episode.

John D. Smith of ViteWall (pronounced like “vitamin”) invented a plastic Drywall Alternative that is made for indoor irrigation required by the vertical farming industry. ViteWall takes just 2 hours to be installed in a room (versus over 2 days for drywall) and has a dual-sided radiant barrier to save electricity. This can reduce 20 to 30% of heat or cold.

Smith was recently quoted in AgWeek: “Ag producers are doing things themselves, so our ViteWalls go up easy and fast, plus are made of PolyPropylene Plastic so they can be easily power-washed. ViteWalls offer a dual sided Foil + White Radiant Barrier to save energy, plus are flame retardant, unlike drywall.”

Visit Vitewall Plastic Drywall Alternative Wall Systems in booth 1321!

Trend Report Part Two – Indoor Ag-Con 2024

Climate Control, Smart Irrigation, Healthy Super Food

(Photos L-R from Hoogendoorn, FabricAir, NGS, Pure Life Carbon and Dramm)

Indoor Ag-Con returns March 11-12 to Caesars Forum Las Vegas offering attendees an insider look into the driving forces behind the ever-evolving vertical farming | greenhouse | controlled environment agriculture industry. Boasting an expanded Expo Hall with 200+ exhibiting companies showcasing the most cutting-edge products, services and tools on the market, Indoor Ag-Con will offer an immersive experience to farmers, growers, ag tech leaders, suppliers, advocates and enthusiasts.

As a follow-up to Indoor Ag-Con Trend Report One issued earlier this year, below are some of the latest trends shaping the indoor agriculture industry today and a selection of product highlights from Indoor Ag-Con 2024 exhibitors.

Climate Control

In recent years, climate control has emerged as a pivotal trend in indoor agriculture, revolutionizing the way crops are grown in controlled environments. With a heightened focus on sustainability and food security, growers are increasingly turning to sophisticated climate control systems to optimize growing conditions regardless of external weather patterns. These systems integrate advanced technologies such as sensors, automated ventilation, and LED lighting, to create tailored environments that mimic ideal growing conditions. By fine-tuning factors like temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, and light intensity, indoor farmers can achieve higher yields, faster growth cycles, and superior crop quality while conserving resources and minimizing environmental impact.

Groupe Eode, (Booth 1306) in partnership with ECU Plus, ATC, and GPS, offers a comprehensive precision climate solution, assisting growers in increasing yields while minimizing risks and energy costs. The ECU plus is a new product line offering a HVAC system capable of delivering the most precise temperature and humidity control in the industry, with exceptional energy efficiency. GPS is a new product line reducing and controlling mildew and pathogen by generating ions in the space. Cost effective and without any maintenance or replacement parts.

Hoogendoorn Growth Management’s (Booth 600) flagship product, IIVO, is a revolutionary climate computer equipped with Intelligent Algorithms, streamlining greenhouse management. IIVO not only simplifies climate optimization but also stands out with proactive Intelligent Algorithms that continuously fine-tune climate control based on forecasted weather conditions, ensuring peak efficiency in greenhouse operations.

Microclimates (Booth 701) is an innovative technology firm specializing in environmental automation tailored for the controlled agricultural sector. In an era where automation systems often operate independently, lacking seamless communication, Microclimates introduces a groundbreaking solution. Unlike traditional siloed approaches, the platform transcends hardware dependencies, providing a unified ecosystem. Through the platform, disparate systems—ranging from climate control and lighting to irrigation and fertigation—are seamlessly integrated onto a single user-friendly interface, facilitating harmonized data management and optimal operational efficiency. Microclimates partnered with Veea Inc. to launch  LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) as the wireless solution for sensing and controlling and its low price point allows for easy deployment in any facility.

DryGair (Booth 207) develops and manufactures a patented dehumidification solution for commercial-scale horticulture, including greenhouses, nurseries, indoor grow rooms, drying rooms, and more. DG dehumidifiers combine powerful and efficient dehumidification with a unique air circulation mechanism to ensure uniform, optimal conditions in the grow space.

DesertAire (Booth 1305) offers highly efficient, purpose built integrated HVACD equipment specifically designed for indoor agriculture. Desert Aire’s GrowAire™ GreenAire™ and DriCure™ HVACD solutions provide integrated HVAC control of temperature and humidity in order to provide stable VFD to enhance and protect crops. The new Chilled Water Integrated HVACD System for CEA will be shown at Indoor Ag-Con.

FabricAir (Booth 702) provides complete air solutions for indoor farming and vertical grow operations. Their fabric-based air delivery systems are custom engineered to prevent microclimates, facilitate uniform temperature and humidity within the grow space, and allows plants to flourish through every stage of the grow cycle. FabricAir ducts are lightweight, hygienic, washable, and they don’t condensate which eliminates corrosion issues. The Rack Flow system offers custom designed airflow solutions for multi-tiered grow spaces.

A new partnership between Wageningen University & Research and Skytree (Booth 903), focuses on the use of direct air capture (DAC) technology in the Dutch horticulture industry. The project aims to explore how DAC-generated CO2 can affect plant growth, the energy efficiency of producing CO2, and the optimal integration of DAC into existing greenhouses.

  • Quality: The project investigates the impact of DAC-generated CO2 on plant growth, which is crucial for greenhouse quality improvements.
  • Energy: It measures the energy required to produce 1kg of CO2, a key factor in the sustainability of greenhouse operations.
  • Integration: The research focuses on optimizing DAC integration, which is essential for modernizing greenhouse infrastructure.

MJTech (Booth 320) is a leader in providing high-pressure fog systems, from breeding to propagation and/or cultivation. To manage humidity, to have adiabatic cooling (lower temperatures) all in the most flexible way with your overall climate computer steering.

Smart Irrigation

Irrigation in indoor agriculture has undergone a notable transformation, driven by advancements in technology and a growing emphasis on sustainability and efficiency. Traditional irrigation methods, such as flood and drain systems or hand-watering, are being replaced by more precise and automated techniques. Hydroponic and aeroponic systems, utilizing nutrient-rich solutions or misting mechanisms, have gained popularity due to their ability to deliver water directly to plant roots while minimizing waste. Moreover, the integration of sensors, data analytics, and smart controls enables growers to monitor and adjust irrigation schedules in real-time, optimizing water usage and crop health. This shift towards precision irrigation not only conserves water, but also enhances crop yields and quality in indoor farming environments.

Dramm (Booth 613) is pleased to announce their partnership with CE-Line to provide in-line nutrient testing to irrigation water in North America. CE-Line is a unique, laboratory quality, nutrient analysis system that automatically samples water throughout the day. This in-line testing solution provides accurate data within an hour, eliminating the wait for test results from a remote laboratory. Sample results are securely stored in the cloud with APIs available to connect to your climate control and fertigation systems. This connectivity allows for automated optimization of nutrient levels in real-time.”

In the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) sector, Siemens’ (Booth 1400 and 1501) advanced controls systems, innovative infrastructure, and building automation systems empower growers to optimize crop growth, conserve resources, and increase yields—all while harnessing the power of automation and data-driven insights—leaving customers more sustainable, from the field to the table.

FGM USA (Booth 321) offers automated NFT growing systems including all irrigation and water treatment systems, as well as a propagation/vertical grow system manufactured by FGM. FGM a Danish and USA Company is a leading designer and mfg. of horticulture equipment since 1979.

HANS® (Booth 1522) has reinvented every component used to treat water – from the redundant pump to reverse osmosis elements into intelligent, efficient, space-saving devices. They are designed to work together in modular, scalable systems to meet every need. So even if your customers have brackish water, or need de-ionized water, or use a million gallons per day, HANS components can be assembled to get the job done – quickly, easily and effectively.

Super Food

Indoor agriculture presents a promising avenue for exploring alternate food sources, particularly in the realm of sustainable and innovative farming practices. Vertical farms, hydroponics, and aquaponics systems are just a few examples revolutionizing how we grow food. These methods not only maximize space but also offer opportunities to cultivate unconventional crops like microgreens, edible flowers, and specialty herbs. As indoor agriculture continues to evolve, it provides a fertile ground for experimenting with diverse food sources, offering resilience against climate change and bolstering food security for future generations.

Pure Life Carbon (Booth 1222) is a private Canadian clean AgTech firm that has developed the first re-usable, carbon sequestering, soilless growing medium for the controlled environment agriculture market. The products utilize Advanced Carbon technology to solve problems for growers that were unsolvable in the past. Pure Life Carbon is among a high-performing group of global innovators and visionaries working to feed the populations of tomorrow while healing the environment. Pure Life Carbon has developed the first re-usable, carbon sequestering, soilless growing medium for the controlled environment agriculture market.

Klassman-Dielmann’s (Booth 812) focus will be on the presentation of a genuine innovation for modern horticulture: Nygaia. Nygaia is a new and groundbreaking substrate fiber based on biopolymer technology that is biodegradable and is particularly suitable for use in hydroponic systems.  Under the theme “The magic of innovation,” the completely newly developed, innovative substrate solution will be brought to life with plant examples grown in Nygaia, test kits distributed to interested guests at the Klassman-Dielmann booth or with the appearance of magician Rob Anderson during the Indoor Ag-Con Expo Floor Day One Cocktail reception!

Royal Gold (Booth 505) is the Original Coco soils company, pioneering Coconut based soils and growing mediums for nearly 2 decades. They are leaders in quality and consistency in the marketplace and focus on industry leading customer support for both hobby and commercial cultivation of all crops. Featuring a variety of soils and soilless mediums and offering OMRI/CDFA organic fertilizers and amendments, Royal Gold is the gold standard in gardening. They will be displaying the new All-purpose fertilizer and new 70/30 Coco-Perlite Blend as well as sharing information on its forthcoming Planting Mix and Potting and Propagation Mix.

BIO520 (Booth 1212) is an all-natural essential liquid mineral nutrient for optimal plant cultivation. Derived from a combination of ancient volcanic magma and sea sediments, and free of any harmful chemicals, BIO520 contains an abundance of vital minerals to help plants thrive. BIO520 is beneficial for all plants and crops, indoor or outdoor. Developed from Mother Nature for Mother Nature.

NGS (Booth 1023) manufactures hydroponics for Strawberries, Lettuces and Leafy Greens. NGS is an engineering firm which has been developing automated systems to optimize growing production both by reducing labor and by incrementing production. NGS builds greenhouses that grow lettuce in the desert as well as indoor systems for strawberries. NGS is presenting its patented rotational system for strawberries which doubles normal tabletop production. This new system is revolutionizing the way strawberries are being grown while reducing labor and production costs.

Supreme Perlite (Booth 1216) horticultural perlite products are the ideal indoor, CEA, or hydroponic growing media made here in the U.S.A from domestic raw material sources. The products are sterile, 100% natural, non-toxic, lightweight, pH neutral, durable and insulating. Used as a standalone product, expanded perlite offers clear advantages such as excellent capillarity, water-holding capacity, and air-filled porosity. Combined with other media, perlite boosts drainage rates and aeration, holds moisture and nutrients close to roots, and resists compaction as other substrates begin to break down.

 

EPM (Booth 521) stands at the forefront of eco-friendly plant protection, manufacturing natural solutions in the USA. They excited to debut a 3in1 plant wash, ECO Green, an innovative solution that cleans plant leaves, roots, and acts as an effective pest management alternative. Its unique blend of catalytic enzymes and citric acid not only removes dirt and biofilm but also guards against pests.

For more information on the 2024 exhibitors, please visit www.indoor.ag.

ABOUT:

Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the largest trade show and conference for vertical farming | greenhouse |controlled environment agriculture. 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, visit www.indoor.ag

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Talking Automation, Sustainability and Scale With Better Future Farms Co-Founder John McMahon

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Better Future Farms, Inc. will build a new hydroponic greenhouse and processing facility on a 61-acre site in the  Louisa County Industrial Air Park. Backed by funding from Generate Capital, a sustainable infrastructure investment and operating platform and a distribution partnership with Taylor Farms,  a leading North American producer of salads and healthy fresh foods, the facility is set to come online in 2024.  In this month’s CEA Q&A, John McMahon, co-founder/chief operating officer of Better Future Farms and founder of Schuyler Greens, shared insights on their decision to locate in central Virginia’s Louisa County , their sustainability initiatives and long term goals for the company.

What led to the decision to build the new greenhouse and processing facility in Louisa County?  What factors made this location the best choice for Better Future Farms?

Better Future Farms Indoor Ag-Con Q and AThe decision was driven by both the site and infrastructure. My business partner David Drescher and I both live in the Charlottesville area, and Louisa County is the next county over.  In central Virginia it’s hard to find the flat terrain needed for a greenhouse facility.  This site had that and the right infrastructure in place in terms of electrical capabilities, natural gas, and proximity to large freeways and distribution logistics.

The local support was another key factor.  We looked at several different counties and once we talked to Louisa County about the project and what it entailed, they were incredibly supportive and became great partners throughout the process.

We also wanted to build our first project in our own backyard in Virginia, as we’re from the area and didn’t want to be on a plane every week. Leveraging our existing relationships in the CEA industry in Virginia also played a role. The state is very enthusiastic about the future of CEA and government agencies and organizations like the   Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership were very supportive and helpful.  And, of course, Virginia itself is a great choice since it puts the facility within a day’s drive of a large population base.

What will differentiate Better Future Farms from other greenhouse/indoor operations?

I’ve been a grower for about 10 years now, so I tend to be a bit cynical when it comes to making big claims. I would say that we’re investing a significant portion of our capital in automation – in the greenhouse, pack line, and growing system.  This decision was influenced by owning and operating a smaller greenhouse for years and recognizing the repetitive tasks that are present in greenhouse operations. The goal of automation is not to replace employees, but to automate the tasks that are repetitive and do not add value, freeing up employees to perform more important tasks.

I see automation is a tool in our toolbox.  We’re not a technology company. At the end of the day, our job is to be a sustainable business that grows lettuce at the right price. The focus of the investment and all our innovations is to do that as efficiently as possible.

Can you share more about your partnership with Taylor Farms?  How will this collaboration help you reach more customers?

Better Future FarmsTaylor Farms is one of the largest salad and fresh cut vegetable processors in the world and all our lettuce will be marketed under Taylor Farms’ Earthbound Farms brand. David and I have both been at this for a long time and we know what it takes to build a brand.  So, we wanted to team up with an existing brand rather than build a new one from scratch.  We talked to several companies and when we met with Taylor Farms, our objectives, philosophies, and values all aligned.

I’m not the type of greenhouse grower seeking to displace field growers.  The way the industry is now, greenhouse/controlled environment agriculture production is miniscule compared to what the large California farms put out.  But these western growers see a need to diversify the supply chain.  Retailers are asking for it because of food safety issues. And, together with post pandemic freight, shipping and other supply chain , water, and weather challenges, it’s gotten more complicated –and more expensive.  Greenhouses/CEA can help diversify the supply chain by allowing these large players to grow product closer to the end user.

We have a great relationship with Taylor Farms and are so excited to be working with them.  For me, starting as a smaller, niche grower, it’s a huge honor to be growing for the largest lettuce producer.

Can you speak to any specific sustainability initiatives or practices that Better Future Farms will implement in its operations and how they align with Generate Capital’s focus on sustainable agriculture?

Generate Capital is a leading ESG public benefit corporation focused heavily on building and financing solutions for clean energy, water, waste, agriculture and more.  They’d been looking at the CEA sector for some time.  While we are their first investment here, I expect they will be very active in this space, and not just with us.

We certainly share their focus on sustainable agriculture and have several sustainability initiatives in our operations.

We are harvesting all our rainwater. Virginia consistently gets 44 inches of rain distributed throughout the year.  We expect that 90-95% of our irrigation will be reclaimed water.  As part of our 14.5-acre facility, we have a 2-acre retention pond that can hold 2.5 million gallons that we’ll be pulling into the greenhouse and using for irrigation.

We’ll also be using 100% LED lights, so there will be no high-pressure sodium lighting and less energy use.

And we’ll always be on the lookout for even more ways to use the least amount of inputs and energy to be as sustainable as possible.

What are your long-term goals for Better Future Farms? What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

Our goals are to build out multiple facilities in Virginia and other geographical locations, add different products, and grow our partnership with Taylor Farms.

In terms of crops, we’d like to offer different types of lettuce and, possibly, berries.  We want to become a diversified producer. The challenge is you need to marry products that complement each other. For example, lettuce and strawberries work well together because they both travel in the cold chain.  Tomatoes and vine crops need to be on a warmer truck.

What’s next for Schuyler Greens?  Will you still be involved?

I wouldn’t be doing this new project without the knowledge and experience I gained from launching and building Schuyler Greens.  I’ve owned Schuyler Greens for more than 9 years now and it encompasses 225 acres outside of Charlottesville with a greenhouse in the middle. I will be keeping Schuyler Greens separate from Better Future Farms.

Schuyler Greens is better off as a traditional farm with a greenhouse on it as we don’t have access to the infrastructure or flat terrain needed to scale up a large greenhouse. The value for me is that Schuyler Greens is a true working farm with cattle, timber and other resources.

We really live in an Amazon world today.  The pandemic certainly accelerated some of the structural changes and put a spotlight on supply chain issues.  Just like consumers, wholesalers and retailers want product all the time so it’s essential for growers to keep up the pace of demand or risk losing business.

The bottom line is that all farming is economies of scale. To consistently produce every day of the week and be sustainable, reliable, and dependable for your customers –whether you’re a small niche grower or a mega-grower– is hard work.    At Schuyler Greens and Better Future Farms, we’re committed to meeting the needs of our customers and partners and are excited about the future.

To learn more about Better Future Farms, visit   www.betterfuture.farm

To learn more about Schuyler Greens, visit www.schuylergreens.com

HP Now | Irrigation Uniformity and Hydrogen Peroxide

Indoor Ag-Con 2023 Exhibitor HP Now (Booth 204) shares:  Growers care for their crops by providing them with all they need: light, nutrients, water, and the right growing conditions. Ironically, the system they are using to provide plants with water and nutrients may also double as a vehicle for unwanted guests in the form of pathogens such as Pythium, Phytophthora, and other fungi and bacteria which can damage crops and raise food safety concerns.

This host of organisms is usually present in irrigation water in small amounts, but tends to proliferate in the water system in the form of biofilm. Biofilm is not only a hotbed for pathogen infestation, but it also has a strong negative impact on irrigation uniformity as it blocks emitters.

This article explains all about how biofilm can be addressed and the role Peroxide UltraPure plays in this.

Learn more about Irrigation Uniformity and Hydrogen Peroxide by reaching out to the team at HP Now

HP Now Indoor Ag-Con 2023

www.hpnow.eu 

Top Reasons To Be Part Of The Premier Event For Indoor Agriculture

This February, Indoor Ag-Con will return to Las Vegas and bring together the entire indoor vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture community. 

With an unmatched program and exhibit hall, you won’t want to miss this annual event scheduled for February 27-28, 2023. Here are the top reasons it’s a must-attend event.

>Register now to take advantage of the early-bird rate and save!<

1.Learn from the brightest minds in the field 


With two idea-packed days of education, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds and inspirational thought leaders in the field of agriculture. 

Education is offered in a variety of formats including keynotes, insightful panel sessions and new fireside chats. The program is designed to enhance your career and grow your business in new ways. 

 

2. Expansive vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture marketplace


Explore the latest innovations from the largest number of exhibitors in Indoor Ag-Con’s 10-year history. Inside the exhibit hall, you’ll find state-of-the art products and services from the top suppliers. From irrigation and LED lighting, to environmental control systems, substrates, greenhouse equipment, energy solutions, business services, and more!

The Indoor Ag-Con Expo Floor is open on Monday, February 27 from 12:00 pm – 6:30 pm PST and Tuesday, February 28 from 9:00 am – 1:00 pm PST. 

 

>Register now to take advantage of the early-bird pricing!<

Indoor Ag-Con 2022 Lunch 23. Connect with industry professionals from across the country

 

At Indoor Ag-Con, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and expand your network like never before. This includes growers, top suppliers, distributors, investors, start-ups, and educators. 

Indoor Ag-Con will once again co-locate with the National Grocers Association (NGA) for even more networking and business opportunities. 

 

UrbanGro.IndoorAgCon20224. Experience the 10-Year anniversary of Indoor Ag-Con

 

We’re a decade strong and continuing to grow! And now is the perfect time to be part of our growth and immerse yourself in the future of farming. This year will feature more exhibits than ever, three education tracks to keep you up-to-date on best practices, and exclusive opportunities to network. 

More than a conference, Indoor Ag-Con is the place for business connections, ideas, AND it’s the marketplace for technology trends and product innovation. 

 

>Act now to take advantage of discounted registration, available only for a limited time!<

Scale Up Your Indoor Grow with Fertigation, Irrigation and Environmental Control by Rivulis 

Growing Indoors is Easy, right?

It sure was easy in the olden days if you produced only a handful of plants in your home. It was all manageable by hand and required only manual labor of love. However, expanding to grow commercially today requires thought, strategy, and most importantly, advanced automated technology to grow consistent premium crops and high yields. All are still produced with love but much more efficiently, consistently, and cost-effectively returning better crops and maximum profit. Indoor cultivation is an art. Adding automation is a scientific art backed by plant data.

When you think of automation, are you thinking no humans will be involved?

That’s not true at all; with automation, you’re eliminating the potential of human error in your indoor cultivation process. You’re taking out the inconsistency of hand watering and nutrient application—the manual management of lighting, humidity, CO2, and HVAC. You gain a more comprehensive view of your whole grow operations.

Commercial growers aim for consistency in their crop. The only way to repeat this turn after turn is with automated technology. Allowing growers to dial in their grow cycle with complete control of water and nutrient feed and precise environmental controls to maintain that profile, crop production and quality. Adding automation brings a considerable leap of innovation to your grow operations.

Rivulis has been at the forefront of helping farmers grow for the past 55 years with advanced drip and micro-irrigation technology and is bringing it indoors, assisting indoor growers in driving consistency and growth for higher yields and premium quality crops.

We offer the most comprehensive product portfolio in the industry with an extensive line of irrigation solutions and end-to-end automation projects for any crop in any climate. Our business is to help you grow bigger, better, and beyond. And we have been perfecting it for over five decades. Our expertise and automation technology can help YOU take your grow to the next level.

Amplify your grow power with Rivulis

Rivulis is the new standard in the industry that will help you push your grow into uncharted territory for premium crop and yield. The Rivulis C8100 precision fertigation system takes the guesswork out of your irrigation and feed programs with a user-friendly controller interface. Growers can easily program customized irrigation and nutrient feed schedules based on the plant’s needs. Giving them the exact amount of water and nutrients needed every time. The system comes with an EC/PH controls, so you can quickly and easily manage nutrient imbalances.

Taking your grow to the next level requires control of the growing environment. The C8100 system base model comes standard with the C4100 Irrigation Controller to manage your irrigation and fertigation needs. Add the C4100 Climate Controller for more control. The C4100 Climate is totally modular and works fantastically well with one, two, four up to an unlimited number of zones. Together, this platform is a powerful system to intelligently manage your indoor commercial grow, from lights, HVAC, CO2, temp/humidity control, and ventilation, all the way to the roots, with custom irrigation and feed programs.

Ready to take your grow to the next level? Visit us at the Indoor Ag-Con and talk to our experts about how to amplify your cultivation power. Find more information at www.rivulis.com.

Argus Controls | Sustaining Cannabis Production With Fertigation

Article Sourced From Greenhouse Grower magazine.

By Alex Fermon, Product Marketing Manager with Argus Controls, a founding member of the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition.

The United Nations estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed countries. With roughly 70% of the freshwater around the world being used for agriculture — a number that could climb to 90% in developing countries by 2030 — the need for efficient water management and sustainable irrigation is at a critical point.Argus Controls At Indoor Ag-Con 2022

Sustainable irrigation is defined as, “the rational practice of all activities related with the irrigation of plants, whether in the areas of horticulture, landscape, and ornamentals so that it helps to satisfy the respective survival and welfare needs of the present without compromising those of future generations.”

It considers the impacts of manufacturing and transportation of required equipment and materials, as well as incurred discharges and waste impacts.[1] For traditional horticulture and commercial agriculture, irrigation is a necessary process for plant growth and, although it can be done manually, automating this process could bring several benefits to growers.

Improving irrigation efficiency can contribute greatly to reducing production costs, making the industry more competitive and ultimately sustainable. Through proper irrigation, average yields can be maintained (or increased) while minimizing environmental impacts caused by excess applied water and subsequent agrichemical leaching.[2]

Fertigation as a Bridge to Sustainability

Fertigation is the process of delivering nutrients and water to a plant through automated irrigation. The goal is to not only produce a crop with higher yields, but to also run a more streamlined and sustainable operation. An automated system eliminates the need for constant monitoring and watering of plants and therefore will reduce overall workforce demands. Automation will also allow for consistency in quality that hand-watering cannot.

There are two common methods of delivering fertilizers through an irrigation system for sustainable production: dilute tank control and in-line injection.

Whether you select dilute tank feeding or an in-line injection system, there is a range of options for automating the nutrient dosing process. While automated dosing systems offer many management, productivity, and sustainability features (including reduced fertilizer and water runoff and better crop quality), they tend to be more complex and cost-prohibitive.

Consider a dilute tank control system when:

  • The whole crop can be administered with a single feed solution.
  • The dilute feed composition and strength (EC) do not change often.
  • The pH of water does not need frequent adjustment.

Consider an in-line injection system when:

  • Irrigation scheduling and nutrient dosing are integrated.
  • Supplying more than one nutrient formulation on the same irrigation system (different crop requirements).
  • The ability is needed to vary the feeding strength (EC) without having to prepare new stock solutions.

Some automated environmental control systems only manage the nutrient dosing equipment, while other horticulture nutrient systems can integrate irrigation scheduling with nutrient dosing activities. An automated fertigation system can be integrated with the facility’s environmental control system where it can be monitored and managed from a centralized user interface along with all other controlled processes within the grow operation.

Fertigation equipment and systems vary with each application and should be capable of adapting to the design and operation of the overall facility. This may include controls and monitoring for:

  • Tank levels
  • EC
  • pH
  • Acid/base dosing equipment
  • Water temperature
  • Soil moisture levels
  • Leaching rates (over drain)
  • Nutrient dosing equipment
  • Pump controls
  • Irrigation zone valves
  • Line purging
  • Recirculation management
  • Water treatment equipment (filters, pasteurizers, ozone, UV, etc.)

There are several factors to consider when planning, designing, and automating an irrigation or fertigation solution in a horticultural facility. Planning for sustainability will result in more efficient use of available resources allowing for long-term viability and success.

As the horticulture industry continues to evolve, so do sustainability solutions like greenhouse automation systems. The future of irrigation controls promises more intricate, intuitive systems with advanced sensors to support more sustainable practices.

REFERENCES:

[1] What we understand for sustainable irrigation. “Asociacion del Riego Sostenible”. Available at: http://www.riego.org/asociacion-riego-sostenible/la-asociacion/sustainable-irrigation-definition/ (Accessed: 29 January 2021).

 

[1] Munoz-Carpena, Dukes (2018) Automatic Irrigation Based on Soil Moisture for Vegetable Crops. University of Florida. Available at: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae354 (Accessed: 21 January 2021).

 

Neff, Jeff, “Automated Irrigation Techniques”. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwWU9BxVJZ0/ (Accessed: 29 January 2021)

Argus Customer Success Story | Midwest Groundcovers Grows With Automation

Indoor Ag-Con 2021 exhibitor Argus Controls shares this customer success story:

Experienced nursery technicians know they can’t water a native perennial at the same rate and frequency as an evergreen or shrub. That’s why the average pop-up lawn sprinkler wouldn’t work in a professional growing environment. Managers at Midwest Groundcovers, LLC understood this. But,  they quickly realized that irrigation suppliers are not always on the same page.

Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor Argus Controls Customer Success Story
Virgil Greenhouse Manager Chris Wacker (left) and Nursery Manager, Mike Krueger (right)

The company’s switch in 2016 to an automated irrigation system customized for a nursery environment has enabled efficiencies that they couldn’t achieve with a previous system designed for golf courses. A precise, easily programmable system is critical for this wholesale grower of nursery stock, including native plants, shrubs, evergreens, perennials and groundcovers, as it continues to expand.

Today, workers can focus on the plants instead of managing irrigation controllers thanks to the implementation of an automated system from Argus Controls. “It allows the grower to scout the plants more instead of trying to run all over the nursery opening and closing valves,” says Mike Krueger, Midwest Groundcover’s nursery manager at the Virgil location.

Stuck in the Sand Trap

Early experiences with automation systems don’t always go as planned. Whether it’s a factory or a greenhouse, initial deployments of “smart” technologies are either a boon to business operations or an exercise in frustration.

For Midwest Groundcovers, it was the latter. The company struggled early on with an automated irrigation system at its Virgil production nursery, which opened in 2001. It was an unwieldy system that was difficult to program and manage, says Matthew Fredrickson, the company’s production manager.

“The irrigation system was programmed for a golf course,” Fredrickson recalls. “You would set it, walk away, and everything is watering the same. “What the system designers and engineers couldn’t understand is that we’re a nursery producing plants that are growing, and their need for water is changing throughout the season.”

What the company needed was a system that was easier to program to accommodate the unique needs of different types of plants.

Expansion Planning

In 2013, Midwest Groundcovers found a solution from Argus Controls that met its requirements. The Midwest team was embarking on a 30-acre outdoor expansion, called the Thomsen Growing Center, at its Virgil location to grow containerized shrubs.

The Argus system doesn’t require IT or automation expertise to program, Krueger says. The design made more sense for a grower, with zones and schedules customized for different planting sections. The management team also wanted irrigation controls that could work seamlessly with existing technologies, including the company’s customized fertigation system.

“They made sure the Argus system could talk to those injectors and that the programming was simple enough for a grower to use the system,” Krueger says. “Argus didn’t force us to buy their equipment. They worked around what we had.”

That was important because Midwest Groundcovers had already invested a considerable amount of money into its existing fertilization system, according to Krueger. Starting over with new fertilization injectors would have been costly. The system was up and running in time for the 2016 season.Indoor Ag-Con 2021 Exhibitor Customer Success Story 2

Fully Automated Future

The company was impressed enough with the Argus irrigation system to begin switching its automated controls to Argus, as well. In 2019, the company switched a portion of its environmental controls in its Virgil nursery greenhouse expansion to the Argus system.

By the end of 2021, the company will extend the automated control system to two growing centers, including a new one that’s under construction, and half of its greenhouses. Midswest Groundcovers’ goal in the future is to expand Argus to the rest of the existing growing centers in Virgil, so the Virgil nursery is standardized with one system. Moving forward, the company will include the Argus system in the design of any new greenhouses or growing shelters, Krueger says.

“We’re really satisfied with Argus,” he says. “We have tried and used several different systems for environmental controls, but we want to standardize the nursery. We like the Argus system and how it works, so for us it made sense for us to continue on that path.”

See what’s new from Argus Controls at the October 4-5, 2021 edition of Indoor Ag-Con and learn more by visiting the company’s website — www.arguscontrols.com

 

 

Argus: Automated Irrigation Techniques

Argus Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor News:

Argus Controls Seeding Knowledge video discusses irrigation techniques and the advantages of automating this process.  In the video Jeff Neff, Senior Applications Technician at Argus Controls, discusses considerations that can be important when deciding which system to choose.  He also covers advantages of automating this process.  Other topics include key considerations for implementing automated irrigation by using irrigation solutions for controls systems for horticulture, including greenhouse control systems and indoor control systems.

 

Irrigation is a necessary process for plant growth. While it can be done manually, automating this process could bring several benefits to growers. As with all types of automation, there are options to choose from, especially while using controlled environmental systems.

Computerized Control System for Horticulture

A fully computerized control system for horticulture incorporates all features of the simpler systems. It also adds support for a much wider range of input sensors, crop water use models. And,  most importantly, efficient irrigation system capacity management. Another approach, before considering a fully computerized controls system, consists of relying on sensors alone. This may not be the best method as they can, on occasion, fail. However, if they are combined with a modeling system, the result is optimal.

Another reason to use an automated system is the ability to include fertigation automation, which a simple solution normally cannot offer. One of the benefits of using an automated system is that it saves on labor costs by eliminating the need for employees to constantly monitor and water plants.

In addition to labor costs, hand watering could also affect the quality of the product. Using an automated system improves how production is controlled.

Using an automated system improves how production is controlled. On the other hand, there are certain applications where automated irrigation is not beneficial, such as in conservatories where there is a variety of plants, each with their own needs.

Factors To Consider

Automating irrigation in a horticultural facility is not an easy task. There are a number of factors to consider when planning and designing your irrigation or fertigation solution. Automating irrigation in a horticultural facility is not an easy task. There are a number of factors to consider when planning and designing your irrigation or fertigation solution.

Argus Controls has developed its own nutrient injection system that can provide anything from a single-tank formulation to many separate fertilizer recipes and feed strengths on the same irrigation system. This is all handled seamlessly by the Argus fertigation management software. Continuous improvement and development of solutions for the horticultural industry are a key and the future of irrigation controls promises more intricate, smarter systems with more sensitive sensors. This nutrient system has proven to be quite successful in diverse horticultural facilities, including when using Cannabis control systems.

For more Argus Indoor Ag-Con exhibitor news, check this site again soon or visit www.arguscontrols.com