The USDA & Controlled Environment Agriculture: A Q&A with Derek Smith, Executive Director of the RII



Controlled ecosystem agriculture (CEA) is a warm spot of investment appropriate now for the USDA, keeping the promise of enhanced efficiencies and productivity for indoor developing operations. The cannabis business, very long accustomed to indoor developing has emerged as a spearhead in CEA innovation.

The Useful resource Innovation Institute has been supporting cannabis enterprises as a non-income entity due to the fact 2016, providing a benchmarking platform identified as Electricity Score to assist hashish cultivators be a lot more effective with methods in their rising procedures. Recently, RII submitted a proposal to the USDA to provide finest procedures from the cannabis field to other CEA crop producers. They have also a short while ago been responding to the Hashish Administration and Possibility Act, delivering feedback to frame an electricity and environmental coverage framework for upcoming federal regulation.

We interviewed Derek Smith, government director of Source Innovation Institute (RII).  Derek engages RII’s advisory bodies, together with the Strategic Advisory Council and Specialized Advisory Council Leadership Committees and develops worldwide partnerships and oversees the organization’s plan get the job done. Prior to RII, Derek was CEO of Clean up Energy Performs and plan advisor to the City of Portland Bureau of Scheduling and Sustainability.

Aaron Environmentally friendly: What are RII’s options for the USDA? I understand you’ve also been working on the CAOA a short while ago?

Derek Smith: We’ve been working in cannabis for 5 a long time, publishing best procedures and capturing information to advise governments and utilities on how significantly electricity is remaining used. Our mission is to enable producers become much more economical in their use of methods. In addition to informing procedures that assistance producers, we also engage utilities to help them evaluate productive technologies, so they can put incentives on them and so they can support purchase down the charge for hashish producers to set up much more productive systems.

We submitted a proposal to the USDA, declaring we have been accomplishing all that in hashish. This was beneath the banner of a Conservation Innovation Grant, which is an innovation funding mechanism from the USDA. They precisely required a thing associated to indoor agriculture and power and drinking water efficiency. So, we basically mentioned, we’ll give you a three-yr project that will fundamentally be the blueprint for the controlled natural environment agriculture (CEA) market to remodel alone toward a extra sustainable generation path. This applies to each the city vertical farms developing leafy greens, as very well as the escalating greenhouse sector that is manufacturing a variety of crops, from tomatoes, to berries, to leafy greens to mushrooms, hemp, etcetera.

We’re in essence using the Electric power Rating benchmarking system that we’ve been serving cannabis producers with to assistance them understand how competitive they are relative to the relaxation of the details set that we have on power use and on drinking water use and opening that system so that far more producers of other varieties of crops can use it. It also feeds into their Natural environment, Social & Governance (ESG) reporting requirements.

We’re heading to generate a collection of most effective tactics assistance for CEA producers, masking a variety of subject areas: facility design and design, lighting, HVAC, irrigation and h2o reuse, controls and automation. This will all be really comparable to what we have carried out in hashish. These greatest procedures guides are peer reviewed by topic make any difference authorities all through the source chain. A great deal of the supply chain in hashish is the exact in CEA. So, we’re bringing them all together to give this form of superior steering to the producer neighborhood.

Eco-friendly: You started off with hashish and designed these white papers. Now you are branching out into the more substantial CEA area?

Smith: Just. The federal authorities is practically funding us to create a environmentally friendly developing rating program like LEED, or like the Dwelling Developing Obstacle, but for the CEA industry for indoor agriculture. The cannabis marketplace can leverage this federal financial investment and fundamentally experience appropriate along with of it so that we can generate a “LEED for weed” sort of certification system.

Derek Smith, Executive Director of Source Innovation Institute

Which is a single of the principal functions in our feedback to the CAOA when they requested, “what else really should we be considering about on any range of subject areas as it relates to federal cannabis laws?” We proposed an power and atmosphere plan framework for federal cannabis regulation. We did that in partnership with a group known as the Coalition for Hashish Policy Training and Regulation (CPEAR). We just held a webinar two months in the past. Hawthorne Gardening Organization was featured on there as perfectly. They’re pretty supportive of the federal government playing a “carrots fairly than sticks” function as it relates to cannabis strength and environmental plan difficulties.

That’s primarily our platform at the federal level. The things that the USDA is funding us to do will arrive back again and advantage the cannabis market, since we’ll have this broader set of best practices steerage, facts, and many others. And then we’ll be ready to leverage the federal investment into a certification procedure for the cannabis industry.

Eco-friendly: The unique opinions you manufactured to the CAOA ended up largely linked to this electricity effectiveness certification system work you have been executing?

Smith: Indeed. It’s far more resource effectiveness – it’s broader than just vitality effectiveness. Effectively, it was 3 factors. So, I’ll just unpack this quickly. Just one, is find out from the states that have previously initiated some type of regulation or assistance on helping producers be far more productive. Massachusetts is a single example. They place lighting prerequisites on the market that do not explicitly mandate LEDs, but it comes shut to that. California handed an strength code that will acquire impact on January 1 of 2023, that also has lights necessities.

Eco-friendly: Is this used to all greenhouse growers?

Smith: Certainly, at a certain dimensions and stage of vitality use. In California, it’s the first marketplace where by their Title 24 restrictions implement not just to cannabis, but to all horticultural operations. Certainly. So that’s what we’re observing is that cannabis is type of the tip of the spear for the way governments are contemplating about policy for indoor agriculture a lot more broadly. We’re striving to get them to concentration additional on acquiring the federal govt enjoy a supportive part. The states are carrying out the regulation, the federal federal government can be more concentrated on carrots, not sticks, suitable?

So, again to the listing of three things. Range one particular is discover from the states. Really don’t incorporate regulatory things, just understand what is likely on, and then determine about how to act. Selection two is recognizing the have to have for info. So, supporting point out specifications on power and water reporting like Massachusetts, Illinois, California – a great deal of states have either enacted reporting requirements, so the producers must notify the point out how much vitality and h2o they’re making use of and they’re using the Electrical power Score benchmarking platform, which has a compliance operate for absolutely free to do that reporting. Then what we’re doing is assisting everybody comprehend what the combination data is telling us. We safeguard the producer’s confidentiality, and we’re making this precious information established that’ll notify the marketplace about what is the most productive path heading ahead.

Then the 3rd thing is centered on carrots, not sticks. For case in point, support the enhancement of a certification method that acknowledges management, that is dependent on a market pushed voluntary motion by a producer where they say, “I’ll be transparent with my facts, mainly because I’d like to be showcased as a chief and get recognition for the very good function I have completed to make an successful operation.” Then there’s valuation by means of the true estate transaction as perfectly mainly because you even have a plaque on your making that states this is accredited to this agricultural regular.

That is all the eyesight that we’re laying out, and we’re hunting for partnerships at the MSO stage to join in and be identified and get in the queue as leaders for the investments they’ve built in efficiency.

Eco-friendly: Good, thank you Derek. That concludes the job interview.

Smith: Many thanks, Aaron.