Controlled Environment Agriculture: What You Need to Know About CEA

It seems like everybody’s talking about controlled environment agriculture (CEA) these days. Investors are drooling over it. Research and development firms love its applications in their field. Food producers love how an agricultural-controlled environment keeps contaminants out for a safer food supply. And its ability to grow food in harsh climates and protect crops from dangerous conditions like storms and floods make it an increasingly useful method in our ever-changing world.

What is Controlled Environment Agriculture?

Let’s start with the basics. CEA stands for controlled environment agriculture. According to the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center:

“Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is the production of plants and their products, such as vegetables and flowers, inside controlled environment structures such as greenhouses, vertical farms and growth chambers. By using CEA, we can produce high-value crops at maximum productivity in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.”

Within the world of CEA are two technology-driven growing methods, hydroponics and aeroponics. 

Hydroponic farming means plants are grown in water rather than soil. Nutrients are added to the water to ensure healthy plants with maximum output. 

Aeroponic growing means plants are grown with their roots exposed to the air. The roots are then regularly misted with water and vitamin solutions, which they can then absorb.

What Are the Main Objectives of Controlled Environment Agriculture?

There are two main objectives for CEA growers. 

  1. Protect crops – CEA vertical farming systems and other CEA operations are an excellent way to protect crops from damaging outdoor elements. Indoor crops are not susceptible to the same pollution, hazardous weather, and pests as their outdoor counterparts.  

  2. Provide optimal growing conditions – The other primary objective of CEA farming is to provide the best possible growing conditions for each crop. This allows them to grow out-of-season crops or even crops that require a completely different climate.

What Are the Advantages of Controlled Environment Agriculture?

CEA offers five main benefits over traditional outdoor farming:

  1. Farmers can grow year-round – Seasonality is no longer a concern when you control the temperature, humidity, and light cycle surrounding your crops. Indoor farming lets growers plant their most popular crops all year round, regardless of weather, season, or climate.

  2. Minimal possibility of crop damage – Crops grown indoors aren’t susceptible to damage from pollution, drought, flooding, bad weather, or pests. 

  3. Uses less water and land – Because indoor growing often involves vertical farming, it takes up far less space than traditional outdoor farming. It also uses far less water with no concern for runoff or evaporation. Eden Green Technology’s CEA greenhouses use 99% less land and 98% less water than conventional growing practices.

  4. Farmers can grow anywhere – Since the conditions around the crops are designed and controlled by the grower, a CEA farm can be planted anywhere in the world. This lets them grow healthy, fresh veggies in the middle of the desert or deep within an urban setting.

  5. Fewer food miles – Since CEA farms can be planted anywhere, they tend to exist far closer to their eventual consumers than most traditional farms can manage. This means that food doesn’t have to travel as far and can arrive fresher and with less food waste in transit. In fact, Eden Green Technology boasts 94% less food waste than traditional farms.

Why is CEA Important?

There are a number of arguments for the importance of controlled environment agriculture. It uses less water, doesn’t rely on increasingly degraded soil for its production, and can grow plants year-round, regardless of climate or weather conditions. Additionally, controlled environments allow farmers to precisely control conditions and keep pests and contaminants at bay.

Michael Barron of AeroFarms, sums it up rather well: 

“With the increased control you can produce more, and you can also have it be higher quality. You can change the nutrition of it. There is a lot more you can do. It gives you a lot more control over the crop and the production of the crop.”

How Does Agriculture Impact the Environment?

In many places worldwide, agriculture is a leading source of pollution. It is a significant source of deforestation and places a huge drain on natural resources like water and fertile soil. When you add in practices like burning land to clear it and using huge gas-powered farm machinery, it’s easy to see how devastating agriculture can be for the environment. 

Which Type of Agriculture Has the Highest Environmental Impact?

The most significant agricultural impact on our global environment comes from livestock grazing. According to the CLEAR Center at UC Davis, livestock is responsible for more than seven gigatons of greenhouse gas production per year, roughly 14.5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond this, overgrazing is destroying rangelands worldwide and leading to significant soil erosion. 

How Can We Reduce the Environmental Impact of Agriculture?

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. Real, sustainable agriculture practices and strategies are being implemented by responsible farmers worldwide to fight climate change and reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. CEA vertical farming and indoor agriculture are one small piece of this puzzle, but so are cover crops, crop rotations, reduced tillage, and the practice of blending livestock with crop production. The environmental impact of traditional and vertical farming is on the decline. Learn more about these initiatives and more here.

How CEA Farming is Shaping the Future of Sustainable Produce

According to a report titled Controlled Environment Agriculture Market Insights, Trends, Opportunity & Forecast (Includes Business Impact of COVID-19), the market for CEA is growing exponentially.

The authors state:

“Conservation of water and nutrients is one of the many advantages of controlled environment agriculture over conventional farming methods. These advanced farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and other soilless farming methods are effectively preventing wastage of water and overuse of nutrients. In a controlled environment, the plants have better health and faster growth, which reduces the need for pesticides and other supplements. Owing to their good health, CEA grown produces are noticeably better in both size and quality then soil-grown crops.”

More CEA farming means greater production of healthy greens and other plants, and locally-available crops year-round, even in urban settings or harsh climates. 

In an article published in the Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, author Dickson Despommier, Ph.D., found that “controlled environment agriculture carried out in tall buildings would create greater food safety and security for large urban populations.” He goes on to say:

“Greenhouse technologies are well-established and guarantee a safer, more reliable food supply that can be produced year round, and they can be located close to urban centers. By ‘stacking’ these buildings on top of each other in an integrated well-engineered fashion, we can greatly reduce our agricultural footprint, and the vertical farm concept can then be applied to every urban center, regardless of location.”

Even the federal government is getting onboard with CEA. According to Greenhouse Grower

“USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has provided a grant of nearly $500,000 to two horticulture experts in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Integrative Plant Science will help design new CEA training programs to build a skilled workforce pipeline for the industry.”

5 Predictions about the Future of CEA

Many ideas are floating around about what CEA will be like years from now. Here are a few of the most intriguing. 

1. Local will Become More Important than Organic

The buzzword for healthy greens has been “organic” for quite a while. You’ll see organic produce all over the shelves of your favorite grocery store. But consumers are beginning to understand that organic doesn’t necessarily mean better

People are continuing to question bigger corporations. And since they’re producing most of our organic foods, the label is losing a bit of its shine. In the coming years, buyers who have insisted on organic produce will likely begin to look more for local brands. Since CEA offers the ability to grow food in any climate, regardless of season, it’s a clear choice for local farmers to offer off-season veggies and fruits to their communities.

2. Growth of Sustainable Urban Ag

Urban agriculture was an unheard-of concept not all that long ago. With its focus on vertical farming, CEA is making it possible to run a productive farm in a smaller footprint than ever before. This means farms that used to require huge tracts of land can now be placed in urban settings on as little as an acre and a half while using less water. 

Urban Ag is vital to promoting health and wellness in our cities. Where there are now food deserts devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables, CEA fresh farms can offer much-needed healthy greens and other produce. And with a far shorter supply chain, these farms can offer the freshest, most delicious food around for a fraction of the cost of imports and significantly lower consumption of natural resources.

3. Small Farms Regain Traction

For the past several decades, the family farm has been on the decline. Smaller farms simply can’t compete with large commercial enterprises and their insanely large budgets. CEA farming is working to turn this trend around. 

Instead of huge corporate behemoths, CEA farmers can offer local, consistent, trustworthy fresh foods. These smaller operations can focus on the quality of the goods they produce instead of the bottom line and their shareholders’ profits. 

4. More CEA Variety

Right now, certain types of hydroponic produce thrive in the CEA setting, like leafy greens, fresh herbs, and cropping fruits like peppers and tomatoes. In fact, these two categories make up the majority of CEA offerings for the moment. But new varieties are being developed, and it’s only a matter of time before this restriction changes. 

At Eden Green Technology, we’re working on many fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, snap peas, celery, and cucumbers. Imagine going to your local grocer in the dead of winter and purchasing a pound of strawberries just picked yesterday. This could be a reality soon!

5. A New Definition of Fresh

Right now, if you go to your local grocery store and pick up some apples, they’re likely already a year old. Other offerings in the produce department are likely not much younger. And yet, we call them “fresh” fruits and vegetables. 

Because CEA can dramatically shorten the supply chain, it offers the ability to go from plant to market in just 48 hours. While apples aren’t in the offering in most CEA operations just yet, plenty of truly fresh, locally grown veggies and fruits will likely be available year-round in markets across the country and worldwide.

The future is unwritten, and nobody knows what tomorrow may bring. But one thing is for certain: controlled environment agriculture already offers farming technologies that our parents’ generation never even dreamed of. Imagine the possibilities it will present to generations to come!

How is Eden Green Tackling Controlled Environment Agriculture?

Eden Green Technology takes sustainability and environmental impact seriously. We are working diligently to solve problems with water usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and food waste, and our vertical farms never contribute to deforestation, depletion of arable land, or soil erosion. We currently boast 99% less land use, 94% less food waste, 85% fewer food miles, and 98% less water use than traditional soil-based farming, and our facilities rank among the top 1% of food-safe environments as well.  

Frequently Asked Questions about CEA

Why is it important to control the environment in a greenhouse? 

When you control the temperature, humidity, lighting, and other factors, you can ensure optimal growing conditions for fast-growing, healthy crops.

What Are 5 Aspects That You Can Control in Controlled Environment Agriculture? 

CEA controls temperature, humidity, lighting, CO2, and nutrient concentration.

What Are 3 Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture uses fewer natural resources, produces food closer to its intended consumers for fewer food miles and fresher harvests, and eliminates the use of dangerous chemicals like pesticides and chemical fertilizers. 

Is Controlled Environment Agriculture Sustainable?

Some CEA environments are too reliant on fossil fuel energy, but when done correctly, CEA can be a sustainable source of healthy fresh food for the local population.

Which Technology Uses a Controlled Environment? 

Typically, hydroponic, aeroponic, and some aquaculture farms use CEA setups. 

Where Can I Learn More About CEA?

With so much to learn about this fascinating technology, you probably want  to know more. Here are a few sources you may find helpful:


The True Impact and Cost of Food Recalls


Hydroponic Lettuce: Everything You Need to Know