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Why the International Congress for Controlled Environment Agriculture 2017? – Part 1

Recently I have been fielding a lot of questions from industry peers asking why Hort Americas continues to support, sponsor and even have a booth at the 2nd International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture (ICCEA). This event is scheduled for May 17-19, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. I thought the best way to respond was to write a two-part blog posting. In my first post I will focus on my “business” reasons and in the second post I will focus on my philosophical reasons.

Business opportunities in developing markets

As we all know, “the only constant is change.” This is no different in the world of commercial agriculture and production horticulture regardless of geographical locations. Panama and other Latin American countries have a very strong and proud history in agriculture and horticulture, which due to changing weather patterns are being forced to adapt. As one would expect, these changes will not come easy and will cause many farms, of all sizes, to suffer in the process. If these same farms want to continue operating and more importantly want to continue to be profitable, they will need to find a new way. My belief is that controlled environment agriculture (CEA) can and will be one of the tools that help these farms redefine themselves.

CEA is a technology-based approach to food production. The aim of CEA is to provide protection and maintain optimal growing conditions throughout crop development. Production takes place within an enclosed growing structure such as a greenhouse or building.

Panamanian government officials feel the same way. They have shown and continue to show a commitment to helping the country’s farmers.

The government’s support started in 2015 and 2016 when it committed and put to work approximately $100 million USD towards investments in innovative production techniques and strategies. In January 2017 the government announced a first-round monetary infusion of $243 million USD for fiscal year 2017 to be directed toward increasing food production using controlled environment/precision agriculture. These funds will be used to transition from current traditional agriculture and its challenges, including water, inputs, available arable land, to technology-based food production which includes CEA.

Panama funds CEA projects

Hort Americas has seen Panama’s government funding put to work. In the last 18 months the following projects have either been initiated or implemented.

* 10 Greenhouses of various sizes built with all the necessary equipment/technology.

* 2 Indoor farm food production facilities (one currently in development stage).

* 1 New university research-and-development facility.

* 1 Tissue culture laboratory.

* 1 CEA seedling production facility.

* 4 Private research-and-development facilities to test indoor food production (agricultural companies).

The following projects are currently in the planning stage.

* 1 Large-scale, world class research-and-development facility (a combined private/government/university initiative).

* 5 Greenhouses (more possible with new incentives recently announced).

* 1 Indoor food production facility.

Panama is one of several Latin American countries receiving this type of financial funding to upgrade the agriculture sector. Peru, Chile and other countries are following suit. In addition, there is a robust effort by CAF Development Bank of Latin American, and other multilateral organizations to increase their agriculture portfolio throughout Latin America, applying technology to produce food.

Hort Americas’ customers are active in the production of food and flowering crops using the technology that best fits their region. From our perspective, and depending on the crops, CEA can be designed and built to suit a variety of crops, production methods and management styles. This can be done as a greenhouse, vertical farm/plant factory or tissue culture facility.

ICCEA does two things to support CEA. First, it focuses on the education needed to support crop production regardless of the technology or geographic region. Second, it brings together people with varied backgrounds, including international investors, growers/farmers, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Due to ICCEA’s unique program and approach it not only attracts attendees from Latin America, it also attracts creative and innovative minds from around the world. In 2015, Hort Americas was amazed to meet and develop working relationships with many new businesses from the United States and Canada.

Unprecedented opportunities for everyone.

ICCEA creates opportunities for people and companies to build business partnerships. And that is what we look for–opportunity. When people have access to information and science that supports what they are interested in, good things happen. When people have the opportunity to listen to leaders from their industry, good things happen. When people have the opportunity to share great food and drink, good things happen. When people have the opportunity and time to professionally network, good things happen.

In 2015, Hort Americas had the pleasure of meeting and starting new business relationships with many new people and companies from the USA, Canada and the Caribbean (arguably more developed markets.) These attendees represented a wide array of thought, businesses, hydroponic crops and experience. It was awesome. Based on conversations we are currently having, we see even more opportunities to meet new and existing customers in 2017.

So, once again Hort Americas will be attending ICCEA in Panama City, Panama, on May 17-19, 2017. We will be there learning from leading researchers, networking and creating opportunities with government representatives, existing agricultural/horticultural businesses, entrepreneurs and manufacturers of CEA products.

Stay tuned for part 2 and hope to see you there.

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