Advanced learning

Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and Virginia Tech launch Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center in Danville

The partnership will create a hub of innovation and economic development in an industry expected to reach $ 4 billion

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) is in partnership with the Virginia Tech School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center to launch an environmentally controlled agricultural innovation center on the IALR campus in Danville, Virginia.

The Innovation Center will leverage technology and research to accelerate progress, economic development and regional participation in the developing indoor agriculture industry. The value of greenhouse food crops in the United States is expected to exceed $ 4 billion this year.

“We are delighted that the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech have combined their expertise to create a premier program in controlled environment agriculture. This collaborative effort creates tremendous energy and enthusiasm because of its potential to provide innovative solutions to the farming community, ”said Alan Grant, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Partnerships like this will help us realize the vision of SmartFarm innovation network initiative to support the agricultural industry.

Bringing together industry, universities and producers, the Innovation Center will mainly be housed in a complex of modern greenhouses on the IALR campus. Features will include various hydroponic systems, which grow plants in a soilless root medium with optimal amounts of water and nutrients. Vertical grow racks will maximize space, and high-tech engineering and technology will be integrated and displayed throughout the center. High value-added demonstration crops will include lettuce, herbs, strawberries, blackberries, hemp and more. In addition, faculty and staff involved in the center will research and educate on fish farming in controlled environments using aquaponics or recirculating aquaculture systems that integrate plant and fish production. . Although traditionally viewed as separate fields, crop and fish production share many similar technologies, problems and needs.

“We are delighted to partner with Virginia Tech, another champion of cutting edge innovation, to extend the impact of agriculture in promising new ways,” said Mark Gignac, Executive Director of IALR. “While agriculture has been a long-standing industry in Southern Virginia, economics have demanded a new identity. We believe that Environmentally Controlled Agriculture is one of the defining solutions, and we are proud to work with Virginia Tech to introduce the concept to growers in our region and attract industry.

According to Michael Schwarz, director of the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center, this new collaboration will further strengthen domestic seafood production.

“The United States currently has a national seafood trade deficit of over $ 15 billion, with more than 50 percent of the seafood we consume coming from aquaculture,” he said. declared. “With this new programming and the harnessing of expertise and infrastructure, we have the opportunity to significantly increase domestic production of seafood and products in the state, region and country,” thus improving food security, safety, sustainability and, more importantly, socio-economically within our agriculture. savings. ”

Environmentally controlled agriculture helps protect plants from disease and stress while providing ideal growing conditions for high-quality, quick-to-harvest food products – sometimes in as little as two weeks depending on the crop. In addition to hydroponic systems, the Innovation Center will use data management, sensors and vertical structures to ensure ideal distribution of water, energy, capital and labor. In addition, strict input protocols will prevent interference. Together, these factors result in a high quality, consistent product with significantly more yields than conventional outdoor production methods. Other benefits of controlled environmental agriculture include consistent year-round production, potentially pesticide-free agriculture, and greatly reduced land and water requirements.

AeroFarms, a leading New Jersey-based environmental controlled commercial producer, recently announced that the world’s largest indoor farm will be located at Cane Creek Center in Pittsylvania County, minutes from IALR. While this industrial-scale operation demonstrates scalability, Michael Evans, director of Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, believes the technology is accessible even to small farmers in the region.

To encourage market growth, and in line with IALR’s role as a regional catalyst for economic transformation, the Innovation Center will present controlled environmental technologies to regional parties interested in entering the market. Lectures, workshops, site visits and a web presence will be part of the outreach and education activities. According to Evans, controlled environment farming is a rapidly growing industry that offers many potential opportunities in South Virginia.

“We are delighted to host this facility on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and to benefit from both the technology developed and the associated economic development opportunities it offers to the region,” said Scott Lowman, Director of Applied Research at IALR. “Consumer demand for healthy, local and pesticide-free products is high and will continue to increase over the coming decades. We look forward to meeting this need through environmentally controlled agriculture.

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research serves Virginia as a regional catalyst for economic transformation with applied research, advanced learning, advanced manufacturing, conference center services, and economic development efforts. IALR’s major footprint is concentrated in southern Virginia, including the counties of Patrick, Henry, Franklin, Pittsylvania, Halifax and Mecklenburg, as well as the towns of Martinsville and Danville. For more information visit

For more information on IALR, contact Allison Moore at [email protected] or 434.766.6766

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