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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Over 230 Assemble at Indoor Ag Conference in Vegas to Explore Solutions to Grow Industry in State & Beyond

Over 230 Assemble at Indoor Ag Conference in Vegas to Explore Solutions to Grow Industry in State & Beyond

April 29, 2013 |

logo-300x69Producing food in arid, desert climates requires resourcefulness, grit and, increasingly, innovative indoor growing technologies and solution. As cities and states across the country with less than ideal soil, water and weather conditions look to increase local food production, sure up supply chains and create new economic engines, indoor agriculture from hydroponics to aeroponics to aquaponics has lately become a hot topic.

As evidence of this burgeoning interest in controlled environment agriculture, this past Wednesday saw over 230 growers, technologists, investors and entrepreneurs converge upon the Historic 5th Street School in Downtown Las Vegas for the inaugural Nevada Indoor Agricultural Conference co-hosted by Seedstock, the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and Nicola Kerslake of Real Assets Junkie.

The conference began with an introduction by Bonnie Lind of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Lind spoke of how the state has long sustained farming despite limited water supply and sandy soil, and how working with indoor agriculture “systems that use only 10 – 15% of the water used in traditional farming is a no brainer.” Robert Puro of Seedstock, the emcee of the event, then introduced the keynote speaker, Paul Selina, who heads up applied research for Village Farms, one of the largest growers and marketers of hydroponics greenhouse production in North America.

Selina spoke about the importance of indoor agriculture to the future of farming, the state of the industry in the US, its advantages in terms of water conservation and enabling growing year round in intemperate climates and the innovations occurring with respect to new lighting technologies, energy systems such as combined heat and power generators and the rise of vertical farms across the US and world. He explained how new controlled environment agriculture greenhouses have the potential to yield 320 tons/acre (using tomatoes as an example) versus field production, which typically yields 12 – 15 tons/acre. He spoke of the multifarious forms that indoor agriculture can take from rooftop operations to urban to vertical or horizontal farms and noted that one size does not fit all.

The day continued with a panel that examined indoor agriculture technologies from hydroponics to aeroponics to renewable energy systems and how they can specifically address the growing conditions in Nevada in a sustainable and economically viable manner so as to increase economic opportunity and local food production in the state. The panel, moderated by Matthew Geschke of Brotherhood Products, featured Navin Twarakavi of the Desert Research Institute, Paul Selina of Village Farms and Chieri Kubota, a faculty member with the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) at University of Arizona.

A panel on the logistics of setting up a controlled environment agriculture greenhouse, moderated by Chris Higgins of Hort Americas followed with David Bell of Houweling’s, Darrell Joseph of Bella Verdi Farms and Eileen Christensen of BEC Environmental explaining how to procure land for indoor ag ventures, what needs to happen to develop projects in a timely and efficient manner and how to brand the end product. The panelists advised prospective growers to ensure that they understand who the customer will be for their product and that it is important to start small, create a market, get feedback and scale from there.

A farm-to-fork lunch cooked up by James Beard Semi-finalist, Chef Mark Estee of Campo, featuring locally sourced spring vegetables with salami cotto, lardo and lamb from Fallon, NV along with a dessert of buttermilk panna cotta with balsamic strawberries, basil sourced from Hydro Greens (an indoor growing operation in Pahrump, NV and black pepper.

Following lunch, a panel moderated by award winning Chef Rick Moonen of rm seafood focused on sourcing sustainable, local food and how indoor growers in Nevada could be integrated into the supply chain and sell their produce to retailers, restaurants and hotels. The panelists included Darcy Landis of Whole Foods Market and Doug Taylor of University of Nevada’s Cooperative Extension (producer to chef program). Landis of Whole Foods Market noted that currently less than 5% of the market’s produce comes from local farmers in Nevada.

The investment panel, moderated by conference co-founder Nicola Kerslake followed with panelists Paul Matteucci of US Venture Partners, USDA business programs specialist, David J. Foster, Zack Porter of Pegasus Capital Advisors and Clint Koble of the Nevada Farm Services discussing various ways to raise money to finance indoor agriculture operations. A panel featuring local farmers and growers from Nevada followed. It was moderated by Jarred Edmunds of the Nevada Natural Resources Conservation Service at USDA, and featured panelists Mark O’Farrell of Hungry Mother Organics, Ken Kesick of Hydro Greens and Marilyn Yamamoto of Cowboy Trail Farm discussing their forays into indoor agriculture and the challenges and opportunities of such ventures.

The conference concluded with a cocktail reception where the conversation continued and connections were forged with the potential to result in both the development of sustainable solutions to spur the growth of the indoor agriculture and positive economic outcomes for the state of Nevada.

And, if you weren’t able to make it, don’t fret; the entirety of the conference proceedings were recorded and will soon be available for your viewing pleasure.

See you at the next event!

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