A glimpse of the future

Visit Indoor Ag-Con for a deep dive into the CEA industry’s promise, issues and opportunities.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Indoor Ag-Con, a trade event dedicated to vertical farming, indoor agriculture and controlled environment agriculture markets. This year’s theme is “The Future of Farming Grows Here.” This year’s show takes place Feb. 27-28 at the Caesars Forum Conference Center in Las Vegas. Our preview guide provides details of some educational sessions and Q&As with speakers. For a complete list and description of sessions and speakers, visit indoor.ag. Information provided by Indoor Ag-Con. All times PST.

Show schedule:

* Sunday, February 26:

2:00 - 5:00 p.m.

Agritecture Designer Pre-Show Workshop – Planning Your Commercial Urban Farming Business

* Monday, February 27:

8:00 - 8:50 a.m.

Welcome & keynote address

9:00 - 10:50 a.m.

Conference tracks 11:00 - 11:50 a.m.  Keynote address

12:00 - 6:30 p.m.

Expo floor open

12:30 - 1:30 p.m.

Lunch on expo floor

2: 00 - 4:45 p.m.

Expo theater sessions

5:00 - 6:30 p.m.

Expo floor cocktail reception

* Tuesday, February 28:

8:00 - 8:50 a.m.

Keynote address

9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Expo floor & theatre sessions

12:00 - 1:00 p.m.

Lunch on expo floor

1:30 - 5:00 p.m.

Conference tracks

MONDAY

8:00 a.m. - 8:50 a.m. 

Keynote

Arama Kukutai, CEO of Plenty, will cover the latest developments and expansion plans for his company, as well as his insights and perspectives on the future of farming and food production.

9:00 a.m. - 9:50 a.m. 

Building a CEA Alliance: The Power of Grower Partnerships

Learn how to work with your competition to create a CEA network that can offer myriad benefits, from idea and cost-sharing and more. Speakers: Jennifer Waxman, chief strategy officer, Imagine Farms; Dr. Halton Peters, president, Hardee Fresh; Oliva Wong, CEO, Fullei Fresh; Dean Kopsell, professor, The University of Florida Track: Funding & Guidance

9:00 a.m. - 9:50 a.m. 

Failing Forward - Lessons Learned

Why do some farms fail and how can you make sure it doesn’t happen to you? This candid panel will take a look at some companies that have gone out of business, the why’s behind it and lessons learned to help you avoid the same pitfalls and others you might not have even thought of yet. Speakers: Kyle Barnett, director of sales, Cultivatd; Glenn Behrman, founder & president, CEA Advisors; Erika Summers, CEA industry consultant; Chris Cerveny, horticulturist Track: Trends & Innovations

9:00 a.m. - 9:50 a.m. 

Outside of Par - UV & Far-Red Light

From UV to far red light, this panel will discuss the benefits of lighting solutions outside of standard wavelengths. Speakers: Dr. Neil Mattson, professor & greenhouse extension specialist, Cornell University; Karla Garcia, technical services, Hort Americas; David Fried, president, RapidGrow LED Technologies; David Imberti, mathematical modeler and software developer, Percival Scientific Track: Grower

10:00 a.m. - 10:50 a.m. 

Food Security through CEA

Fresh local and tasty are not the only benefits CEA can deliver. This panel will explore how CEA can help foster food security among states, communities and countries during times of global conflict, supply chain restraints, weather and other obstacles. Speakers: Jeffrey Landau, director of business development, Agritecture; Eddy Badrina, CEO, Eden Green Technology; Craig Ratajczyk, CEO, Crop One Holdings; Chris Rawley, founder/CEO, Harvest Returns Track: Funding & Guidance

10:00 a.m. - 10:50 a.m. 

Indoor & Outdoor - Working Together

Growing food is not us vs them. In this topic, we’ll discuss strategies in which indoor CEA growers can work with conventional farmers to ensure a steady food supply. The panel will also explore how technology can help all types of growers. Speakers: Chris Higgins, general manager, Hort Americas; Anya Rosen, senior manager of farm ops, Square Roots Track: Trends & Innovations

2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.

Hardball: The State of the Vertical Farming Industry

From profitability to future growth, energy use, best practices and more, all questions are welcome. Speakers: Robert Colangelo, founding farmer/president, Green Sense Farms Holdings, Inc.; Andrew Howell, VP of Sustainable Food & Agriculture, Ceres Partners; Niko Kivioja, CEO, Netled; Jason Green, CEO , Upward Farms Track: Expo Theater

TUESDAY

9:15 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

Bringing the Knowledge Inside

Transforming vertical farming through seed genetics – a fireside chat with Unfold. Speakers: David Nothmann, COO, Unfold; Sonia Lo, CEO, Unfold Track: Expo Theater Session

1:30 p.m. - 2:20 p.m. 

Beyond Leafy Greens - The Future of Vertical Farming

From berries to pharmaceuticals join the discussion to see what’s next. Speakers: Adam Wright, COO, Imagine Farms; Samuel Bertram, CEO, OnePointOne Inc.; Henry Sztul, Ph.D., chief science officer, Bowery Farming; Caleb Wilson, CEO, Renaissance Ag Track: Grower

1:30 p.m. - 2:20 p.m. 

Future of Automation & AI in Horticulture

Automation and Artificial Intelligence systems are helping improve overall workflow, harvest quality and accuracy. Speakers: Kelli Rodda, editorial director, Produce Grower; Allison Kopf, chief growth officer, iUNU; Maarten Vandecruys, founder & CTO, Urban Crop Solutions; Rien Kamman, co-founder and CEO, Source Track: Trends & Innovations

1:30 p.m. - 2:20 p.m.  

Government Regulation In CEA

Greater transparency and cooperation with governing institutions will lead to better representation of CEA in the building codes and regulations. This conversation is aimed at opening a dialog between industry and government to ensure that regulation represents CEA properly. Speakers: Dr. Nadia Sabeh, president, Dr. Greenhouse, Inc.; Marc Oshima, CMO, AeroFarms; Tom Zoellner, secretary general, Farm Tech Society; Derek Smith, executive director, Resource Innovation Institute Track: Funding & Guidance

2:30 p.m. - 3:20 p.m.

Does Your Company Need a Sustainability Specialist?

Learn the roles and responsibilities of sustainability specialists and how they’re leading the charge on negating the environmental impact of indoor growing. Speakers: Rebekah Moses, vice president of impact strategy, Iron Ox; Hannah Bouline, director of impact & sustainability, Vertical Harvest Farms; Kindall Brantley, sustainability specialist, AmplifiedAg, Inc. Track: Trends & Innovations

2:30 p.m. - 3:20 p.m. 

Transforming Food Deserts Through CEA

We often speak about CEA being a solution to food deserts, but what are we actually doing to improve these communities? Panelists will discuss how we can truly collectively serve food deserts, implement real change and increase access to healthy food for everyone. Speakers: Nona Yehia, CEO, Vertical Harvest; Alaric Overbey, vertical farm director, GreenSideUp Track: Funding & Guidance

2:30 p.m. - 3:20 p.m. 

Strawberry Success: Strategies for Overcoming Production Challenges

Whether in a vertical farm or greenhouse, strawberry production can be a challenging crop. Learn some of the strategies to overcome difficulties, the state of the CEA strawberry market and compare vertical farm and greenhouse production side by side. Speakers: Alexandre Van Deun, founder, Urban Harvest; more speakers TBA Track: Grower

3:30 p.m. - 4:20 p.m. 

Avoiding Nutrient Imbalances

Join the panelists as they discuss some of the most common nutrient deficiencies and the best ways to overcome them. Speakers: Nick Genty, co-founder & CEO, AgEye Technologies; Paul Fisher, professor and extension specialist, University of Florida; Pieter Slaman, corporate head grower, Little Leaf Farms; Bruce Bugbee, professor of crop physiology, Utah State University Track: Grower

3:30 p.m. - 4:20 p.m.

Trends - Creating a New Category For CEA

Panelists talk about creating a new category within supermarket and retail distribution chains that clearly and effectively explains the value of the work we do to today’s consumer. Speakers: Jennifer Polanz, managing editor, Inside Grower; Dave Vosburg, chief innovation officer, Local Bounti; Mark Gagnon, senior vice president of sales, Kalera, Inc.Track: Trends & Innovations

3:30 p.m. - 4:20 p.m. 

Workforce Development

The average age of today’s farmer is more than 57 years old. This panel will discuss strategies to empower the next generation of growers to ensure that we can develop future farmers of the world. Speakers: Lori Culler, owner, AgHires; Dr. Angela Cottrell, University of Missouri - Kansas City; Mike Ruane, lead recruiter, Mac & Fulton Talent Partners; Dr. Daniel E. Wells, associate professor, Auburn University College of Agriculture

Questions with Chris Higgins

Growing food is not us vs them. Indoor CEA growers and conventional farmers can work together to ensure a steady food supply.

Conventional produce farming and controlled environment ag companies each serve important roles in food supply. And the two camps have lessons to teach one another, which helps bolster the produce market and keep the country stocked with fresh food.

What are a couple of approaches indoor and outdoor produce growers can take to work together to maintain a steady food supply?

First, let’s decide if we are defining indoor as something with electric light only, meaning no sunlight, or are we defining indoor as greenhouse production. Because for decades, greenhouses have supported field farming. The relationship between controlled environment agriculture and field agriculture is already well established. We don't really need to change too much. But we need to look at how to enhance those relationships.

But it's not really an us vs them scenario, because if we're competing for the same shelf space at a grocery store, I think the field farmer is going to win. They’re going to come out on top more often because of price.

Going beyond that, it is vitally important for all of us to be profitable, no matter which method we use to grow food. We have to look at the human and natural resources we have and how we use them when growing something.

From the consumer perspective, do they have much knowledge about the different growing methods? Do you think it’s important to consumers?

I think for most shoppers, they don't really care about what technology is being used. I do believe that local is something that they care about. I do believe that quality is something they care about. And I think that the majority of the shopping public cares about price.

If you take those three things and say those are the three things that drive the market, you can start to understand that whether it's an indoor or an outdoor facility, it's not necessarily about the technology growers are using that influences the consumer. It's more about did the growers choose the right technology that allowed them to deliver those three attributes.

What can conventional growers teach CEA growers and vice versa?

I think the field growers, because they have time on their side — time in the form of history — have a lot more to share with the indoor farmers than the other way around. When I say indoor, I'm really referencing guys that are doing this without sunlight. There are plenty of greenhouses in this conversation as well, and I think the greenhouse and field growers have been having these conversations for decades, because many of the older greenhouse businesses that I work with started off as field farmers. Remember, the field's got history on its side, no matter how you slice it. Greenhouses are new technology compared to field farming.

But one thing field growers can offer the greenhouse growers is an understanding of how to better manage and work with labor. As far as greenhouse growers, what they have done better than the field farmers is to develop brands and control their product rather than allowing their product to be commoditized.

Questions with Daniel E. Wells

The average age of today’s farmer is more than 57 years old. This workforce development panel will discuss strategies to empower the next generation of growers.

There are so many opportunities for careers in CEA, but the industry needs to hone in on ways to attract students to colleges and universities, as well as ways to encourage post-graduates and professionals to seek careers in this market. As a panelist in the workforce development session, Daniel Wells, associate professor at Auburn University, will discuss how he trains students to be ready to enter the workforce after graduation by offering them hands-on training opportunities in CEA and other production technologies.

What’s the main obstacle for growers when it comes to hiring?

From our perspective at Auburn University, we want to provide growers with well-trained talent. We have heard from the industry that there is a lack of qualified growers in the CEA world. Here at Auburn, we think that providing hands-on experiences for our students to actively participate in food production will help them be successful employees right out of the gate. Our FoodU program is focused on training students to be ready to enter the workforce after graduation by offering them hands-on training opportunities in CEA and other production technologies. We are currently growing fresh produce for our on-campus dining facilities, university-affiliated restaurants and our Culinary Sciences program in greenhouses, vertical farms, raised beds and a rooftop garden. Students engaged in the FoodU program learn about the local food system by participating directly in it.    

What are some successful avenues growers have used (or should use) to hire new people?

Active recruitment at universities through career fairs or direct interviews is always a good way to interact with lots of potential employees. I also think internship programs are a great way to actively recruit and test-run potential employees. Students benefit greatly from strong internship programs, so I think more companies should think hard about starting an internship program if they don’t already have one. Something else that should be considered is partnerships with universities. I believe that higher education is going to change significantly in the coming years and private industry partnerships are going to be critical to that change. Here at Auburn, we are partnering in traditional and non-traditional ways with private industry to accomplish research goals and to also train the next generation of growers.

What are a few ways the industry could improve getting people interested in CEA careers?

It’s cliché to say, but awareness is always key. The produce industry is large and very diverse, but when people think of careers in produce, they most likely think of head grower positions or of small farm owners. Although it is a slow process and sometimes doesn’t have an easily measurable ROI, I think advertisement campaigns are important. People still think of the “got milk?” commercials from years ago. CEA should reach a diverse audience with their message. When a young person sees beautiful images of produce it can spark the desire to work in that industry, but the myth that there are only jobs for growers or farm owners should be dispelled.

What are some CEA career opportunities that should be touted more?

As the CEA industry continues to grow, numerous, highly skilled support jobs will continue to be important. Structural, mechanical, electrical and computer engineers will all have an increasing role to play, as well as HVAC and maintenance technicians, and other skilled support personnel. There are of course numerous career opportunities in business management, sales, marketing, etc. that are specific to the produce industry. One doesn’t have to be a plant physiologist to find a fulfilling career in the growing CEA industry. Hopefully these types of careers will gain more notice in the coming years.

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