USDA - NIFA Conference Sept. 9 - 12, 2019

USDA - NIFA Conference at Biosphere 2

USDA - NIFA Conference Announcement

September 9 - 12, 2019

Developing sustainable and strategic plans to feed the future in the face of growing global challenges will demand interdisciplinary vision, collaboration and innovation. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) implemented as fully enclosed, multi-level indoor agricultural food production systems, Vertical Farms (VF), will complement future greenhouse (GH) plant production systems and will offer innovative technological solutions for issues at the food-energy-water nexus.

The purpose of the conference is to Plan an Interdisciplinary Controlled Environment Indoor Agriculture R&D Roadmap and Coordinated Research Plan.  It is supported by USDA/NIFA-AFRI program and is hosted by the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ  and Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ

This conference (September 9 – 12) will facilitate interdisciplinary discussions centered on several major thematic R&D areas for CEA/VF/GH, each of which will interface with the others to identify cross-disciplinary areas of synergy, opportunity and need. Thematic areas include:

  • Economics: focus questions and discussions will include: what are good metrics of success in these systems from both industry and community perspectives? Can we develop a pipeline to quantify environmental and social benefits of these systems in a Benefit-Cost Analysis framework? How scalable are these systems? What are environmental impacts, life cycle analyses?
  • Engineering: focus questions and discussions will include: how to increase lighting efficacy, light use efficiency, and reduce cost? How to control and modulate CO2? How to design and enhance air circulation and to optimize HVAC? How to minimize labor input and integrate innovative automation and robotic systems? How to improve water use efficiency and cycling?
  • Production Systems: focus questions and discussions will include: how to manage crops to integrate with improve environmental controls, nutrient delivery and automation. How to improve plant architecture to enhance crop productivity and reduce waste? How to improve logistics and enhance labor efficiency?
  • Plant Breeding: focus questions and discussions will include: what makes a crop a good candidate for indoor farming/what are priority candidate crops for these systems beyond what is currently grown? What traits should be privileged in breeding programs for indoor farming? How can gene editing and genomic techniques be leveraged to integrate novel financial opportunities into these growing systems, such as increased nutritional content, enhanced water, nutrients and light use efficiencies, or pharmaceutical production? How CEA production systems can alter the structure of microbial communities associated with plants, growing media, and determine how the alterations affect plant nutrient and water uptake and utilization?
  • Pest and Disease Management: focus questions and discussions will include: what are the major viral, fungal, and insect pathogens in these systems and how are they best addressed? Integrate Pest Management for reduced chemical control? How to develop and implement a rapid and simple digital imaging system for pest and disease diagnosis? How to improve the efficiency of pest and disease management while not harming beneficial insects and pollinators? 
  • Food Nutrition and Safety: focus questions and discussions will include: how alterations to growing media and environment will impact food quality, flavor, nutrition content and food safety? How do indoor growing conditions alter the microbial communities of plants? How do they impact product quality and shelf life?
  • Industrial Ecology in Closed Systems: focus questions will include: how can we better design more energy and resource efficient systems? Can we build holistic energy models? Can we create industrial ecosystems where one industry’s effluent is another’s intake? How would we model/quantify the ecosystem services provided by a functioning ‘closed loop industrial ecosystem’?

Conference participants are additionally welcome to join writing teams and collaborate on a proposal for a coordinated agricultural project (CAP) grant on VF that builds off of conference discussions. Writing teams may also choose to develop proposals for relevant funding programs at USDA-NIFA SAS, SCRI, NSF/USDA/DOE INFEWS, and NSF


  • Pre-registration ends June 30th
  • invitation to attend conference July 15th
  • Final registration, room reservations and payment due August 1st;
  • Conference events begin Monday September 9th

For more information about the conference please read the Project Summary.

For more information about conference activities please read the Conference Program Schedule and Format.

 For more information about Biosphere 2 please read the following document. 

Want to make the most of your time in Tucson? Go to Visit Tucson to discover things to do during your visit!