Controlled Environment Agriculture


Indoor vertical farming, or Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), represents a significant shift from traditional agricultural methods towards more sustainable and efficient practices. This innovative approach to farming leverages vertical space to grow crops indoors under controlled conditions, using artificial lighting and nutrient-rich water. 

In Alberta, the importance of exploring alternative agricultural methods like indoor vertical farming has become increasingly apparent. With regions like California experiencing severe water crises, Alberta’s need to secure a reliable supply of leafy greens and lettuce without relying heavily on California imports is critical. However, the journey towards establishing a robust CEA industry in Alberta is not without its hurdles. These operations require a substantial amount of power to maintain artificial lighting, climate control and automated systems, which can lead to high operational costs and sustainability concerns. 

Despite challenges, there is a growing recognition of the potential benefits of vertical farming. Educational institutions are beginning to develop specialized programs to cultivate talent within the CEA industry. For instance, the introduction of the Indoor Agriculture Certificate program through Olds College reflects an acknowledgment of the need for skilled professionals capable of navigating the complexities of specialized indoor farming operations. 

The industry must also learn from past failures, such as those experienced by companies like Fifth Season and AeroFarms, which highlight the risks associated with focusing too narrowly on specific crops, not addressing power prices and not properly developing people skills. Investing too heavily in proprietary technology and not being more focused on farm operations is also something farmers need to address to be successful. 

To thrive, the vertical farming sector must address broader market needs by expanding beyond microgreens and leafy greens to include a wider variety of produce. This diversification, along with managing unit costs, ensuring power reliability and affordability and developing a skilled workforce, are crucial for meeting retailer and consumer demands. 

Alberta’s indoor farmers, such as GoodLeaf Farms and NuLeaf Farms, exemplify the potential for success within the province. GoodLeaf Farms is scaling operations to meet increasing retailer demand, while NuLeaf Farms offers more customized and localized solutions, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of vertical farming models. 

Shondell Sabad, co-founder of Prairie Vertical Farms, believes that having all industry participants, government and educational institutions working together will make Alberta a CEA industry leader. 

As industry leaders like Andrew Lloyd (COO Intelligent Growth Solutions) and academics such as Mark Lefsrud have pointed out, the success of vertical farming hinges not just on technology but on a deep understanding of plant care and the dedication to constant cultivation. This holistic approach, combining technological innovation with agricultural expertise and strategic industry support, will be key to establishing Alberta as a leader in the CEA industry. 

AEG member Prairie Vertical Farms is an Alberta based commercial scale vertical farm producer committed to cultivating high-quality leafy greens locally at competitive prices. With a focus on farming expertise and a dedicated technical team, they prioritize cost efficiency and aim to address food security challenges in Alberta.