As droughts and other climate-related constraints become more and more routine, the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) sector and the number of producers serving it will likely increase accordingly. In the face of extreme and unpredictable weather events, we can reasonably expect state and local requirements for water circularity, carbon sequestration and other measures.
What can CEA growers do to stay ahead?
Since 2020, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Resource Innovation Institute (RII) have been supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service via a three-year Conservation Innovation Grant project titled Data-Driven Market Transformation for Efficient, Sustainable Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). The initiatives of the project include free benchmarking, best practices guidance, and training to share efficient cultivation practices and enhance the competitiveness of farmers while advancing energy savings, carbon emissions reductions, and more resilient communities.
The bellwether of energy codes
Agriculture often gets a pass on energy regulations. However, as technologies are increasingly incorporated into cultivation environments, this is changing. In January, California will roll out Title 24, Part 6, Energy Codes & Standards for Controlled Environment Horticulture. The regulations will require lighting efficiency, automation, greenhouse screens, and more for growers at a certain scale.
These efforts will become global blueprints, as have previous regulatory approaches issued by Dutch and other European governments.
How to stay ahead: prepare & engage
As governments contemplate energy and environmental policies and regulations, they routinely seek input from the public and relevant stakeholders through public workshops and written comments. Stakeholders across the CEA sector should actively engage in the policy and regulatory development process. Early and consistent participation supports more effective policies that align specific requirements, performance standards, incentives, and education and training with functional business needs. It should be noted that very few produce growers were visibly engaged in the Title 24 proceedings, despite the implications to markets inside and outside of California.
Engagement in policy development can also help producers plan for new requirements and make the most of the time before any new regulations take effect. Take advantage of efficiency program incentives and technical assistance to try out new technologies and practices and scale the learning curve. Integrate resource efficiency best practices and enroll your operations team in relevant training. Planning and preparation can give a company a competitive edge and even reduce the cost of compliance; once new codes are effective, efficiency incentives may be reduced or eliminated, thereby increasing compliance costs.
Perhaps most immediately, producers should benchmark to understand their facility profile and, in doing so, help build a robust CEA dataset to map the industry’s path toward becoming the force for resilience we all know it can be. We invite growers to check out ResourceInnovation.org/PowerScore to learn more and to get involved in the free benchmarking assistance available through our USDA-funded effort.
Toward global consistency via data & collaboration
RII is working with industry leaders to advance producer-centric support systems, including effective policies and incentives. If you’re interested in being involved, please reach out.
This July, RII will launch a Policy Working Group under the banner of the USDA CEA project to provide insights into policy guides that ACEEE and RII will publish and share with federal, state, and local policymakers.
These guides will debut at the upcoming Resilient Harvests Conference, which will gather producers, supply chain members, policymakers, efficiency program representatives, and standards organizations to envision a collaborative, efficient future for CEA. The conference will be held Nov. 1-2 in Long Beach, California, just before Title 24 Codes & Standards are rolled out.
As Policy Working Group member and Resilient Harvests Steering Committee member Colin O’Neil of Bowery Farming says, “As an industry, we need to proactively engage with policymakers and stakeholders so they can better understand our industry and make policy rooted in data-driven environmental outcomes.”
Read more best practices guidance RII has shared with Produce Grower. Consider benchmarking your greenhouse operation’s key performance indicators with PowerScore at ResourceInnovation.org/PowerScore. Dig deeper by joining RII and participating in our Technical Advisory Council Working Groups.