International CEA 4.0 conference examines ongoing developments

On Friday 14th May 2021, Dr Aurélie Bovi, Knowledge Transfer and Innovation, and other CHAP staff joined attendees from around 350 organisations at Day 1 of the ‘CEA 4.0’ online international conference.

CEA 4.0 aims to look at the strategic context of ongoing developments and explore several core topics associated with Controlled Environment Agriculture, such as growing methods; Capex/Opex; standardisation/interoperability; or research and innovation in the sector.

Day 1 focused on the ‘Development, Planning and Design’ involved in the creation of ideal growing environments, including capital expenditure (CAPEX) and the standardisation and interoperability of indoor farming technologies.

Mark Horler, from CHAP member UKUAT and FarmTech Society, chaired the event and welcomed the attendees to Day 1 of the conference with some opening remarks. He was followed by Caroline Povey (Defra), Tom Jenkins and Ian Cox (UKRI InnovateUK), who highlighted opportunities available to the CEA sector, including relevant capabilities and expertise through the four ‘Agri-tech’ innovation centres – including CHAP – and Defra’s upcoming R&D funding plans for 2022 to support the transition to Net-Zero food production.

Jen Bromley from Vertical Future, said combining plant science knowledge with vertical farming technologies was key to adapting and matching plant growth needs, but also optimising their nutrient and protein content. She also touched upon the opportunities brought by plant breeding to varieties adapted to indoor farming systems.

The audience then learnt about urban farming initiative and R&D opportunities in Singapore before a break provided the opportunity to explore exhibitors’ virtual booths – including those from CHAP members Cultinova, GE Current and Innovation Agri-Tech Group (IAG).

A lunchtime roundtable discussion chaired by Grain Voltz, focused on seed and the importance of having a good source for seed suitable for vertical and urban farming systems.

LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) focused on delivering a more circular approach in indoor farming, highlighting the barriers, pay-offs and potential of Integrated Farm Management (IFM).

Throughout the day attendees had an array of talks to choose from in virtual parallel sessions: from new technologies and solutions, case studies and latest research to the economic costs of indoor farming and tips on how to minimise these. There were perspectives and lessons learnt from the UK’s biggest indoor farm producer, Jones Food Company, and US leader in indoor salad farming, BrightFarms and, at the other end of the spectrum, insight into the journey of a hydroponic start-up.

Attendees could also use the online conference platform to network and arrange one to one meetings with other attendees in private virtual booths.

Day two of the CEA 4.0 conference, on 4thJune, will cover more topics from international projects; OPEX; indoor farming energy needs; increasing yields; optimal production systems, and explore more technologies and research innovation.

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