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Food Production Using Controlled Environment Agriculture and Agrivoltaics Systems Could Become the New Normal

By Melissa Vidmar

New research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Virginia Tech suggests that technologies such as controlled environment agriculture and agrivoltaics may become part of the future of farming.

Controlled environment agriculture systems are typically enclosed or indoors. They include greenhouses, vertical farms, and hydroponics that use horticultural and engineering techniques beyond traditional, soil-based outdoor production. Agrivoltaics involve the use of land for both farming and solar photovoltaic energy generation.

A recent publication by USDA and Virginia Tech researchers highlights that these innovative techniques could increase yields, enhance nutrition, improve access to local foods, and provide better year-round access to  than traditional large-scale outdoor production.

The research team found that even though these systems face technological and , they are part of a long history of advancing technology for the U.S. agricultural sector.

Erik Dohlman led the team with Karen Maguire, Wilma Davis, Megan Husby, and Catharine Weber, all economists with the USDA's Economic Research Service. Virginia Tech researchers included John Bovay, assistant professor and Kohl Junior Faculty Fellow in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, and Yoonjung Lee, a graduate student in the department.

While these new technologies may not replace conventional production methods anytime soon, they have great potential to generate benefits, including renewable energy from agrivoltaic systems and reducing the risk of crop failure in extreme weather conditions.

"Part of the motivation for this project was to provide an overview of emerging technologies, particularly hydroponics and vertical farming," said Bovay, who is also affiliated faculty in the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture.

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