Growing Sustainability: A Conversation With Derek Smith of Resource Innovation Institute

Discover the insights from Derek Smith of Resource Innovation Institute.

 Special thanks to this week’s edition sponsor, AmplifiedAg, for keeping this edition free!

The world of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is experiencing rapid evolution. The quest for increased efficiency and sustainable practices is at the forefront of these advancements.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Derek Smith, the Executive Director at Resource Innovation Institute (Website), to shed some light on this journey. Here's what we learned:

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A Little About Resouce Innovation Institute

The Resource Innovation Institute (RII) is a non-profit organization that aims to promote efficiency and sustainability in agriculture, mainly controlled environment agriculture. RII collaborates with various stakeholders to advance energy efficiency, water circularity, and decarbonization.

Initially focused on cannabis, RII established benchmarking platforms and facilitated stakeholder collaboration to address best practices. Over time, their scope expanded to cover a broader range of crops grown in controlled environments. In 2020, RII received a Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA to further its work in transforming the CEA industry through data-driven strategies and collaboration with partners like the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The Quest For Efficiency

One of the critical aspects of indoor vertical farming is its efficiency. Smith highlighted that some CEA operators are already leading the way regarding energy and water efficiency. Smith noted, "Now that peer-reviewed best practices are being published, efficiency techniques seem increasingly adopted." This trend is heartening as the world seeks sustainable solutions to its growing food demands. By harnessing the power of technology and best practices, indoor vertical farming increases yields and reduces resource consumption. This is a significant step towards a greener future.

While indoor vertical farming has faced criticism regarding carbon emissions, Smith emphasizes the need to evaluate environmental impacts comprehensively. As Smith put it, "It's essential that the CEA sector frames the story of how CEA insources stages such as pack houses so that comparisons with traditional farming practices can be understood more clearly by a range of stakeholders." This emphasis on transparency and accountability is crucial. It ensures that the environmental benefits of indoor vertical farming, such as reduced land usage and the potential for clean energy sources, are fully recognized. This nuanced approach to carbon emissions is a step towards a more balanced view of the industry's environmental impact.

A Case-By-Case Basis

Indoor vertical farming is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Regional characteristics play a significant role in determining the success of an operation and its business model. Derek Smith confirmed that "CFA operators, investors, and real estate actors" increasingly consider local variables. This regional adaptability is a testament to the industry's commitment to sustainability and efficiency.

The diversity of crops in indoor vertical farming is another area of interest. While leafy greens have been a staple, the industry continues to expand its crop varieties. Smith stated, "Our role will be establishing benchmarks at crop and regional levels to guide the sector's ongoing efficiency journey." This adaptability and willingness to explore new crops align with the industry's commitment to providing a variety of fresh, locally sourced produce year-round.

So, what does the future hold for indoor vertical farming? 

According to Derek Smith, transparency and collaboration are rising, enabling better benchmarking and validating the industry's environmental value. This partnership between the public and private sectors is crucial for scaling indoor vertical farming, addressing regional needs, and advancing food security while maintaining resilience.

Indoor vertical farming is more than just a trend; it's a resilient solution to many challenges facing traditional agriculture. Derek Smith's insights from the Resource Innovation Institute affirm that this industry is evolving and maturing. As it does, it brings us closer to a greener, more resilient food future.

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