Thanks to Jim Pantaleo for this contribution. Jim is one of the most connected people in the controlled environment agriculture movement and was able to get down to Panama to bring you some exclusive coverage of last weekend’s ICCEA event. Interested in helping out like Jim? Get on our mailing list and get in touch. Sign up here!
I am more than pleased to write about my attendance at the inaugural International Conference on Controlled Environment Agriculture (ICCEA) in Panama City, Panama. The May event brought together 350 of the brightest minds in indoor agriculture, vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture (to include greenhouses) from around the world.
Giving the definition of humid an entirely new meaning, Panama City is exploding with new construction and visible economic development. I quickly learned Panama’s unemployment rate proudly rests at 3% while the smiles of her people and the warm hospitality of the ICCEA hosts could not be measured by a statistic. If the conference was about feeding people, the organizers accomplished that goal with an outstanding lunch buffet each day.
The ever-gracious Latin American vertical farming pioneer, David Proenza, CEO of Urban Farms along with Chris Higgins of Hort Americas and the excellent e-magazine, Urban Ag News, spearheaded the event. Speakers and panelists included such academic luminaries as;
- Toyoki Kozai, known in Japan as the ‘Father of the Plant Factory’
- Caleb Harper, Founder and Lead Researcher at MIT’s City Farm
- Don Wilkerson formerly of Texas A&M and current senior scientist at Caliber Biotherapeutics (saving lives through plant science)
- Gary Stutte NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (Space Agriculture and Controlled Environments)
The 3-day event had a United Nations feel but was distinctly academic. I have to take my hat off to the translators and presenters who courageously and credibly maneuvered their way through presentations in English. Ask me to give a presentation on LED light transmission in Japanese…Sure.
There were also a solid number of established global ‘indoor ag’ businesses and start-ups in attendance; Priva, Heliospectra, Mitusbishi Chemical and Dow AgroSciences to name a few. The overall theme of the conference however was one of learning, connecting and sharing the latest information in lighting technology, plant physiology and the key components or pillars that make up the vertical farm or plant factory.
Kudos to Dr. Nadia Sabeh for her insightful and engaging presentation on HVAC in controlled environments. I know, HVAC does not quite sound like the most riveting of subject matters but when one learns of the technology and foresight required; it gets interesting, fast. I also enjoyed the amazingly high energy of Dr. Leo Marcelis from Wageningen University in the Netherlands who detailed light spectra transmission and made the use of red, blue and far red light seem more understandable…from the plant’s perspective.”
A critical component of many of the discussions was how all the indoor ag technology works in the real world. For this, Dan Albert of Seattle’s FarmBox Greens had much to say about his own experiences in running a vertical farm while successfully selling to clients. In my mind, there is no better point of view than one from a person who is actually in the ‘trenches’ getting their hands dirty each day and working towards building a profitable business.
Without question, people (and governments) are paying attention to the indoor ag/vertical farming movement. The ICCEA was opened with a speech by Panama’s current Minister of Agriculture, Jorge Arango, while former ministers of agriculture as well as a former president of Panama were in attendance and spoke as credible panelists. I had my own “Forrest Gump” moment when I had the high honor of sharing a meal with the affable Ritter Diaz, Ambassador of the Republic of Panama to Japan.
I’m certain my blog entry here will only be one small part of the growing media interest in the subject as Karen Varga, editor of Greenhouse Management and Produce Grower magazines, was in attendance and will share her scoop with the masses in upcoming issues.
Next up, keep your eye on Nicola Kerslake’s Indoor Ag Con event (limited to 120 attendees) this fall in New York City as a continuation on the topic showcasing discussions by CEOs from AeroFarms and FarmedHere to name a few.
Mil Gracias (a thousand thanks) to David Proenza, Chris Higgins and all the good people who made the ICCEA a success. These amazing individuals are global change agents and without a doubt, they are working each day to make the world a better place.
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