NCERA_old101: Controlled Environment Technology and Use

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

NCERA_old101: Controlled Environment Technology and Use

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

1. The need, as indicated by stakeholders

The use of controlled environments for research, education and crop production is continuously increasing. With advances in technology and increasing complexity in the operation of controlled environments, there are needs for uniform guidelines to maintain, monitor and report environmental conditions such as light quantity and quality, temperature, humidity, and atmospheric gas composition. Although manufacturers of new technology are open to suggestions, independent evaluation is necessary to build trust and information exchange among industrial partners, researchers and commercial producers.

There are needs for education and training opportunities in all aspects of controlled environment use from technology development to facility design, and from research to commercial production. Controlled environment facilities require careful management and monitoring to ensure desired conditions are efficiently sustained. Research is needed to optimize production approaches to meet environmental, social and financial efficiencies.

The committee has taken a lead role in the on-going establishment, development, and dissemination of reporting guidelines for climatic and other variables, appropriate recording frequencies, units and types of instrumentation. In addition to guidelines for growth chambers and other enclosed environments, the committee has developed guidelines for tissue culture projects, greenhouse environments, and is in the process of developing standards for the emerging horticulture light emitting diode (LED) lighting industry. The guidelines are published in national scientific, engineering, and trade journals. Printed materials suitable for displaying at controlled environment laboratories around the country have also been developed in efforts to inform and reach new users and remind current researchers of appropriate reporting standards. These guidelines have also received input from international controlled environment experts as part of the committee's long-standing relationship with affiliates in Europe and Australasia.

The committee maintains analytical instruments that are available to members for calibrating sensors and measuring devices. Project leaders use the calibrated instruments as standards at research, educational and commercial facilities around the United States. The collection of instruments rotates among the members and then is returned to the Utah State University for re-calibration. The features of the instrument package are demonstrated and discussed at annual meetings. In efforts to maintain the instrument package as state of the art, upgrades and replacements are continuously evaluated and added to ensure commonly used instruments as well as emerging analytical capabilities are included for evaluation.

2. The importance of the work, and what the consequences are if it is not done

The use of controlled environment technologies in research, biotechnology, commercial horticultural, ornamental, pharmaceutical and crop production is steadily increasing and now represents a significant portion of the U.S. economy. Controlled environment facilities have improved as our understanding and knowledge of plant growth and development have increased. The technology has become more systems oriented with increasing demands for accuracy and precision. Ongoing dialogues among scientists, engineers and commercial users are needed to ensure equipment and expertise are developed to accommodate evolving research and production needs.

Agricultural production issues, impacts on the environment, food security and dietary concerns are important topics in the planning, organization and governing of local, state and national economies. Sound scientific data are needed to develop priorities, policies and if needed, regulatory guidelines for local crop production. To obtain objective results, research activities addressing these issues in agriculture, plant physiology, genetics, ecology and environmental sciences, are often conducted in controlled environments.

Well-educated professionals are needed to operate, manage, develop and advance controlled environment facilities for research, education and production purposes. A shortage of trained personnel is likely to result in inefficient management procedures, less than optimal space utilization and low return on investments. The NCERA101 committee in addition to research, education and outreach activities, and information transfer in the area of controlled environments, provides significant leadership in the sharing of information to connect researchers, educators, professionals, students, manufacturers, private industries and other groups working in the area of controlled environments.

3. The technical feasibility of the research

Controlled environment facilities are used at many universities, research institutes, industry technology companies, and as specialty crop production units. These facilities are in demand and are continually upgraded and expanded. The increased diversity of available hardware, research methods and projects benefits from clear information transfer and protocols. NCERA101 has partnered with controlled environment organizations in other countries to expand the dialog to an international level since technology and practices are constantly evolving worldwide.

A major emphasis of the NCERA101 committee is communication and coordination. The committee is composed of professionals representing the various segments of controlled environment technology and practices, and provides a unique opportunity to ensure a comprehensive approach. As more energy- and labor-efficient techniques become available, the committee is able to define guidelines for supporting the educated stewardship of available resources. The committee intends to continue fostering cooperative efforts such as technology advancement and transfer, quality control and standards, development of guidelines, instrument calibrations, information transfer in the form of national and international meetings, published research and educational materials, and the development of overall efficient sustainable operational techniques.

4. The advantage of doing the work as a multi-state effort

Agricultural experiment stations in nine states of the North Central Region (IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, ND, OH, WI) are represented on the committee. In addition, agricultural experiment stations in 13 states outside the NC region have designated committee members (AK, AZ, AR, CT, GA, MD, MS, NJ, NY, NC, TX, UT, WV). The USDA is represented by NIFA in Washington D.C., and the two laboratories of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, and Crop Systems and Global Change in Beltsville, MD. Several representatives from the NASA facilities in Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, and Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL are associated with the committee.

The commercial sector is well represented through private research and engineering consultants, private companies supporting NASA (Aerospace Engineering Science, Colorado, Dynamac Corporation, Florida, ORBITEC in Madison, Wisconsin), and the major growth chamber manufacturers (BioChambers, Conviron, Environmental Growth Chambers, Percival Scientific). In addition, lighting and sensor manufacturers (Apogee, Argus Control Systems, Cycloptics Technologies, Heliospectra, HortAmericas, iGROW Induction Lighting, Illumitex, LiCor Biosciences, LumiGrow, Lighting Sciences Group, Philips Lighting, PP Systems, Valoya) and agricultural biotech companies (Aero Farm Systems, Ball Horticultural Company, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, Fraunhofer-Center for Molecular Biotechnology, PanAmerican Seed Company, Syngenta Biotechnology) regularly support and participate in meetings, information exchange, deliberations and the organization of the committee.

The membership is approximately one third trained agricultural engineers. The remainder of the membership is plant physiologists and horticulturists working in various areas of plant science, biology and crop production. The mix of "basic" and "applied" researchers strengthens the committee and allows for interests, perspectives and evaluations to spur research efforts, technological innovations, partnerships and agricultural applications.

The committee has a major objective to integrate controlled environment research into classroom teaching, graduate research, and extension educational programs. The healthy interaction of different perspectives and interests assures findings and results benefit agricultural communities, continued research and educational efforts, technological advancements and society in general.

NCERA101 has taken the lead in developing information on controlled environment technology and disseminating this information to universities, commercial manufacturers, growers, and government agencies. Areas with short field seasons and low winter temperatures and light, such as the NC region, can be expected to benefit from this technology in attempts to increase local crop production. In addition, greenhouse vegetable, ornamental and nursery crop production is a multi-million dollar industry that is highly dependent on the knowledge generated by this committee.

States throughout the US are represented on the committee. The annual meetings are well attended and attract participants not just from the U.S., but also from Canada and Europe. NCERA101 has developed partnerships and regularly collaborates with similar controlled environment groups in the UK and Australia. Several international meetings of the three groups have been arranged. The next international meeting is planned for 2016 in Australia.

5. What the likely impacts will be from successfully completing the work

The development of standards and guidelines for monitoring and reporting controlled environment research conditions and protocols is essential for effective research progress and commercial implementation. Communication and coordination among researchers in various locations lead to sharing of ideas to support more innovative studies and synergistic accomplishments while reducing involuntary duplications of efforts.

Inconsistencies in research protocols and measuring practices among scientists can lead to difficulties comparing results and potentially erroneous or overlooked findings and conclusions. Providing access to standardized calibration instruments and well-developed reporting guidelines leads to greater accuracy in research results. Uniform reporting metrics in publications also allows for more accurate communication and interpretation of results leading to more efficient crop growth protocols and food production.

High quality education of students at various levels will meet the need of filling current and future professional and research positions. Well-educated personnel can be expected to improve the use and efficiency of funds and resources allocated to controlled environment facilities. Research findings and observations are translated into applications in support of the most resource- and labor-efficient production techniques and approaches of food, medicinal and ornamental crops in urban as well as rural locations. The collaborations with industry ensure research findings are in step with technological advances of controlled environment facilities and production units.


  1. Technology Advancement: Advance the technology of controlled environments and greenhouses for agricultural research and production.
  2. Technology Transfer: Disseminate novel technologies to users including controlled environment manufacturers, managers, and commercial operators. Teach historical, recent and emerging controlled environment technologies to students.
  3. Quality Control and Standards: Develop quality assurance procedures for environmental control and monitoring in research and production facilities to improve reproducibility of biological results.
  4. Guidelines: Continue to develop and update guidelines for measuring and reporting environmental parameters for studies in controlled environments.
  5. Communication: Publish research, exchange information, prepare educational materials, organize national and international symposia and conferences, and provide consultation and expertise to scientists, commercial users and industry stakeholders of controlled environment facilities both domestically and abroad. The NCERA-101 committee maintains a website ( to facilitate outreach activities.
  6. Instrument Calibration: Maintain a calibrated set of environmental measurement instruments that are available for use by researchers and commercial members; Environmental: To promote the sustainable development and energy efficient operation of controlled environment facilities.

Procedures and Activities

The objectives of the committee are accomplished through communication and coordination among committee members to address critical needs through committee assignments, membership input, and the election of officers to provide oversight. Annual committee meetings will be held every year at sites of the members. International meetings have been held every three to four years in collaboration with our colleagues in analogous groups in Europe (UK Controlled Environment Users’ Group) and in Australasia (the Australasian Controlled Environment Working Group). The locations for international meetings rotate among North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. The next international meeting is scheduled for 2016 in Canberra, Australia. University of California, Davis, NASA Ames Research Center and industry partners in California are planning to host the 2017 annual meeting. In 2018, the annual meeting will be in North Carolina to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the phytotrons at Duke and North Carolina State universities. Presentations and discussions by scientists and industry partners on problems, issues, new advancements, novel applications and adaptations of controlled environments in research, teaching, industry and commercial crop production are conducted at the annual meetings. Strong collaborations and interactions among research, academic, government and industry representatives during annual meetings and ongoing discussions ensure the transfer of knowledge in areas such as advances in design, instrumentation, control and monitoring techniques of controlled environments. Quality control is a focus and continued exchange of information and ideas will serve to ensure the appropriate use of controlled environment technology. The NCERA101 committee has already developed and continues to work on guidelines and standards for reporting conditions and procedures during research projects, experimental and commercial use of controlled environments (Both et al., 2015). Efforts will be made to ensure recent publications by members of the committee, including annual meeting proceedings, are widely accessible through the internet and other publication methods.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Implementation of new technologies and improved operation of controlled environment facilities through information exchange and technology transfer.
  • Facilitate open exchange of international developments and accelerate evaluation and adaptation for US applications.
  • Collaborations and meetings with international partner groups in the UK and Australasia will be held in conjunction with scheduled international meetings to encourage information exchange. Conference proceedings will be published and accessible through the world wide web.
  • Guidelines and standards for measuring and reporting controlled environment research activities and results will continue to be developed, refined, and promoted by industry, government and academic partners.
  • Continued partnerships among manufacturers, researchers, educators and operators of controlled environments to support the advancement of new technologies and improved management practices.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Strong collaborations and interactions among research, academic, government and industry representatives during annual meetings and ongoing discussions ensure the transfer of knowledge in areas such as advances in design, instrumentation, control and monitoring techniques of controlled environments.

Collaborations and meetings with international partner groups in the UK and Australasia will be held in conjunction with scheduled international meetings to encourage information exchange. Conference proceedings will be published and accessible through the world wide web.

Guidelines and standards for measuring and reporting controlled environment research activities and results will continue to be developed, refined, updated and promoted by industry, government and academic partners.

Partnerships among manufacturers, researchers, educators and operators of controlled environments will be encouraged to advance the development of new technologies and improved management practices.


The committee identifies participating institutions. The approved experiment station representatives are usually active for the duration of the project. At each annual meeting, a secretary is nominated and elected. The secretary serves one year and then becomes chair-elect and chair the following two years. Dr. Carole Saravitz is the current chair, Dr. Gioia Massa is chair-elect and will become chair during FY 2017, and Dr. Robert Morrow was elected secretary at the last annual meeting and will serve as the chair beginning FY 2018.

Literature Cited

Guidelines for measuring and reporting environmental parameters for experiments in greenhouses.

Both, A.J., L. Benjamin, J. Franklin, G. Holroyd, L.D. Incoll, M.G. Lefsrud and G. Pitkin. 2015 Guidelines for measuring and reporting environmental parameters for experiments in greenhouses. Plant Methods 11-43,


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

BioChambers, NASA, NIFA, North Carolina State University, USDA-ARS Beltsville Agricultural Resarch Center
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