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Feasibility study of a controlled environment agriculture ecosystem in Kentucky

Everyone involved is committed to the development of a sustainable and healthy food production system. Therefore, the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality commissioned the University of Kentucky and Wageningen University & Research with support from the University of Pikeville to conduct a Feasibility Study of a Controlled Environment Agriculture Ecosystem (CEA) in Kentucky. A joint team of researchers has formulated ten practical recommendations to further boost the development of an Agtech ecosystem in Kentucky.

Continued collaboration

Ton van Arnhem, Agricultural Counselor:

“I believe the cooperation between Wageningen University and the University of Kentucky is the perfect combination: where the key recommendations and action points drawn from best practices in the Netherlands are catered to the local context in Kentucky. Now the success of this collaboration can only be achieved by continuing to work together among public, private, and academic stakeholders both in Kentucky and in the Netherlands. We have to think about how we can embed this AgTech ecosystem, which includes substantial investments in CEA, in the existing agricultural context. This means including growers as well as other parties, such as livestock farmers. We can all benefit from the new infrastructure this collaboration brings and find ways to valorize outputs to make the Kentucky AgTech Ecosystem a sustainable one. We look forward to continue our collaboration and to define the next steps on this important journey together.”

Monique Kuykendoll Quarterman, Executive Director for the Office for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Innovation:

“The state has been grateful to collaborate with the Netherlands and our academic communities to better understand and be motivated by the innovation unlocked by CEA. As we look to Kentucky’s recent innovations and collaborations in CEA, this is an opportunity for Kentucky to further uplift the vital contributions of agriculture producers and their markets in solving the world’s greatest challenges.” 

Ten recommendations for CEA in Kentucky
Examining the differences between the Dutch system and the developing systems in Kentucky, this study provides a number of recommendations.

  1. Establish a state-wide CEA industry development Taskforce.
  2. Establish a Kentucky greenhouse growers council.
  3. Invest in and develop CEA research and development, extension, and innovation networks.
  4. Invest in and develop CEA educational programs.
  5. Establish a clear pathway for open field and mid-tech high tunnel growers to grow towards high-tech CEA production.
  6. Encourage market development and value chain management for Kentucky-based CEA firms through cooperation.
  7. Develop a CEA workforce development plan in collaboration with the CEA industry development task force.
  8. Develop and pursue a CEA spatial development strategy involving state and local agency partners.
  9. Devise and plan for sustainability within Kentucky’s CEA ecosystem.
  10. Communicate the CEA story with society.

CEA growers come in all sizes and produce a wide range of products. While the narrative of this executive summary carries the reader from an open field to a high-tech CEA system, there are many entry points to CEA growing systems. We all seem drawn to the large, flashy production facilities that are being built in certain corners of the Commonwealth. We must remember that other visions exist in this space as well. It is with the broadest possible spectrum of possibilities in mind that we leave you to read the full report.

Read the report here. 


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