Introducing the Controlled Environment Agriculture Program!

Oct. 12, 2023
Group of students standing infront of the CEARC

Following the successful launch of the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) minor this summer; we've worked to continue opening the world of CEA to our students! We're proud to announce the new CEA specialization perfect for students ready to dive all in - please note this is a specialization of our Sustainable Plant Systems (SPS) major.

Let's start at the beginning - what even is CEA?

We spoke with HCS Assistant Professor, Dr. Garrett Owen, who'll be advising students in both the specialization + minor, to get the inside scoop: "I would define CEA as the modern approach to cultivating plants under protection – either in greenhouses, high tunnels, or indoor systems – using technologies to manipulate and manage environmental conditions and cultural practices to optimize growth, development, and flowering or fruiting. While CEA is most often perceived for growing food crops (leafy greens and fruiting crops), they are also used for growing other horticulture specialties such as floriculture (annual bedding plants, perennials, potted flowering florist plants, indoor foliage plants, cut flowers, and propagative materials) and medicinal plants. Additionally, I’ve seen production of mushrooms and bioenergy crops under CEA conditions too."

Dr. Garrett Owen (far left) and his lab on a visit to Altman Plants – where they experienced CEA in action.

The CEA program could not come at a better time as our Controlled Environment Agriculture Research Complex (CEARC) opened this past fall at Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory.

How does the CEARC tie into this program?

Dr. Owen’s Lab utilizes the CEARC for much of their research, and he shared "The CEARC is a state-of-the-art facility for cultivating specialty horticulture crops under protection using modern technologies. The facility is equipped with technologies and systems that can advance CEA research and be a center for workforce development, yet it also creates opportunities to educate our communities about sustainable and efficient food and plant production." You can meet one of Dr. Owen's graduate students, Ty Rich, and glimpse into some of their lab's research in the CEARC in one of the latest videos by the CFAES Knowledge Exchange.

HCS lecturer, Mark Kroggel, echoed a similar sentiment in regards to the advantages of our students having access to a facility like the CEARC adding that while "there's no classes currently run solely in the CEARC; there is a plethora of opportunity to get hands-on experience working as a student employee in a lab or conducting undergraduate research". 

You can hear more from Mark and The Kubota Lab on how the CEARC is helping students bridge the gap between studying + working in the industry via the CEARC in one of Hort Americas latest videos:

Well, now you have a broad sense of what CEA is + how the facilities our students have access to will help enhance their experience both in and out of the classroom. Let's dive into why studying CEA can be a great launch pad into a career.

a cea degree is just the start of a fruitful career

"The specialization is a great opportunity because undergraduate students can become more knowledgeable of CEA and gain hands-on experience growing plants using modern technologies and systems. Furthermore, CEA is inclusive as production requires plant/crop care specialists (propagators and growers), plant breeders, plant pathologists, entomologists, computer scientists, engineers of all specializations, chemists, logisticians, business and trade personnel, food safety and quality specialists, managers, skilled laborers, mechanics, and so on. This minor provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to become knowledgeable of CEA and competitive when entering the workforce" Dr. Owen stated. Mark added in studying CEA also leads you to become adept at "rapid problem solving", a valuable skill regardless of your specific end career goals.

HCS student checking on the tomato plants in the CEARC (May 2023) + the same tomato plants two months later (July 2023).

A special thank you to the Kubota + Owen Lab for lending their time, knowledge & expertise to make this announcement possible.

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