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Controlled Environment Agriculture is booming in California

In December 2021, members of the Dutch and US-based Global CEA Consortium (formerly called CaWaDu) project team met in California for a three-day intensive visit. The group consisted of representatives of FME, NL Works, Netherlands Consulate General and Embassy, UCANR , US Davis and others. 

The trip had several objectives:

  • Engage a wide variety of CEA industry leaders and visit their facilities to better understand their challenges.
  • To better understand the growing interest in CEA among California law-makers and community leaders, and motivations for the expansion of the CEA industry in California. 
  • Reinforce the Goals and Objectives for the CEA Consortium.
  • Review progress, status, and plans for CEA Consortium to promote and accelerate innovative solutions to challenges facing CEA.

Challenges sector
The itinerary included site visits and in-depth discussions with Plenty, Rocket Farms, UC Davis research facilities, HM Claus Innovation Center, and the AgStart Incubation Center, which gave the group an excellent overview of the scope of CEA research and operations in California. Additionally, the group met with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, representatives from the CA Governor's Office, and Greater Sacramento Region Leaders to discuss the needs and opportunities for CEA to thrive alongside the strong food production ecosystems in California. The new large Gotham Greens facility in the Davis area that is just getting up and running is a testament to that regional enthusiasm. 

Throughout the meetings, the group listened to industry business leaders, CEA facility operators, and community leaders to learn what they needed most to succeed. The key themes were: the need for a trained workforce and automation technology (clear that the lack of the former is driving the need for the latter!), improved efficiency and sustainability, creative relationships for financing, and government relations. 

The trip was very succesful! Both the NL and CA groups have been able to increase support for executing Consortium activities – an important step in promoting and achieving goals. The purpose of the Consortium remains an essential theme in both regions with growing appreciation. Engagement with Industry, government, and local community leaders reinforced the growing vision of CEA as a critical element in addressing food challenges.

New innovation project updates
The creation of the California Agriculture, Food, and Health Innovation Center (CAFHIC) based in Northern California will be a public-private partnership to bridge crucial innovation and opportunity gaps by bringing our world-class industries of agriculture, food, and technology together with our universities and innovation partners to vet and slingshot innovations and inventions into widespread commercialization. The focus on commercializing technology from invention to market adoption aims to accelerate solutions to the world’s agriculture, food, and health challenges while sustaining thriving communities and ensuring a prosperous economy across the state, nation, and world.

The CAFHIC will be a non-profit organization established by a network of partners in Northern California, and spearheaded by the University of California, Agriculture, and Natural Resources. The CAFHIC will include:

1. An incubator facility and programs to support startup commercialization in the Agriculture and food tech (Agfoodtech) sectors

2. Technical, laboratory, and manufacturing facilities to support specialized Agfoodtech research and development 

3. Collaboration environments for industry-university-community collaboration and workforce development events and activities.

In order to properly evaluate the opportunities and demand for an innovation center, a feasibility study is currently being developed. Over 75 letters of support have been generated for this project, demonstrating the need for such a facility. Interviews with stakeholders have overwhelmingly indicated the need for CEA facilities connected to, or in, close proximity to valuable lab space. This project presents an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs and technologists to create new products and essential components for the Agrifoodtech industry.

For more information:
Ministry of agriculture, nature and food quality of the Netherlands 

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