Controlled Environment Agriculture

PLS 217 Students in the CEAC Teaching Greenhouse

Dr. Joel Cuello

Dr. Gene Giacomelli 

Dr. Murat Kacira

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be nine billion people on Earth. New technologies will be needed to feed the world’s population, and to grow food in outer space. Climate change adds to the pressure of food scarcity. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) uses technology to enable growers to manipulate a crop’s environment to desired conditions. Greenhouses, aquaculture, hydroponics, and aquaculture are all examples of controlled environment agriculture. The Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) within the ABE department has the potential, with the support of CALS and UA mechanisms, for developing self-support to expand to meet the demands.

Our students are heavily involved in researching this area. [More here]


YUMA and MARICOPA, AZ –Precision Agriculture with Drones

Dr. Kamel Didan

Using drones equipped with sensors and other imaging technologies, ABE is collaborating with scientists at Yuma and Maricopa Ag Centers to develop simple and near-real time tools to assist farmers  control and manage  field crops.  Drones offer a costs effective alternative to satellite imaging that essentially mimics satellites but with many folds the precision and ease of deployment.  They capture the spectrums of light invisible to the naked eye and measure the crop development with higher precision and submillimeter resolution.


With this multi-spectral, thermal, and other  data collected from drones, famers are able to:

  • Measure plan size and  monitor their growth  for more accurate predictions of crop demand and yield.
  • Differentiate weeds from the actual crop (ex: lettuce), so that they can be targeted and removed (via human labor or automated machinery) to optimize crop growth and resource allocation.
  • Monitor crop  health in near-real time, so that farmers can take appropriate actions.
  • Estimate  irrigation water needs based on plants stress and field ET and  optimize efficiency further.

    Unprocessed aerial photo of field lettuce heads.

    Processed image delineating lettuce heads. Processed image estimating size of lettuce heads.

    Graphical representation of Lettuce Head size 


The concept of the Vertical Farm, popularized by Dickson Despommier, constitutes a promising solution to helping meet the demand for food of a highly urbanized global population that will grow to 9.5 billion by 2050.

Given that crop production will have to double by 2050 -- and that today's agriculture already uses almost half of the planet's land surface and two-thirds of the Earth's available freshwater supply -- the only sustainable way to grow food going forward is with less land, less water, less carbon emission and greater yield. Growing food in Vertical Farms will help meet such demands if only Vertical Farms can be made economical.

Our Vertical Green Box solution, aka the minimally structured, modular and prefabricated Vertical Farm, is specifically designed to usher in the transformative paradigm of the Vertical Farm that is sustainable -- economically, environmentally and socially. 

Dr. Joel Cuello



Want to learn more?



The LGH is equipped as a Bioregenerative Life Support System (BLSS) through the design and construction of an innovative hydroponic plant growth chamber. Centered on using plants to sustain a continuous vegetarian diet for astronauts, a typical BLSS employs plants and crop production in addition for food, to also provide air revitalization, water recycling, and waste recycling for the crew.


Fulfilling the requirement of NASA's GES and the late Mr. Steckler's dream of space colonization, the LGH aims to deliver more than supporting a sustained human presence in space. The LGH aspires to bring practical commerical-ready technology to Earth's CEA forefront.

Dr. Gene Giacomelli 


Greenhouse systems can be more resource use efficient if environmental control system include plant responses measured in real-time in the decision making process.

Our research designs, develops and implements computer vision guided crop diagnostics and phenotyping systems for timely identification of crop status, stress locality, and improved resource use efficiency in CEA systems. 

Dr. Murat Kacira


The worlds’ resources are becoming scarcer, especially in semi-arid and arid regions. The innovative technology must go beyond increasing yields but also include appropriate production systems and strategies.

Our research includes targeted applications with alternative energy integrated CEA such as agrivoltaics and photovoltaics integrated semi-transparent glazing technologies in greenhouses to meet energy demands and for improved resource use efficiency and sustainable crop production.

Dr. Murat Kacira 


Proper climate control strategies maintain desired climatic conditions and provides uniform environments within acceptable ranges to guarantee high quality crop production and yield year around.

Our research focus on analyzing greenhouse and crop energy balance, detailed understanding of crop and greenhouse system interaction, developing climate control algorithms and strategies to optimize crop growing environments with improved resource use efficiencies (i.e. water and energy) and climate uniformity. 

Dr. Murat Kacira


Interactions of environmental variables in greenhouse are complex involving a number of physical and chemical properties of matter that are challenging to model realistically. 

Our research focus on developing methods of understanding these complex phenomena within controlled environments. We develop and validate 3D Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) models to study the aerodynamics of greenhouse and indoor plant production systems to improve climate uniformity and offer design  recommendations for system manufacturers, growers,  system operators. 

Dr. Murat Kacira


Our research aims to develop and implement  novel and integrated sensors and control system  networks and strategies to monitor and control  health and growth of microalgae in closed and open microalgae production systems leading to improved production and resource use.

Dr. Murat Kacira


The University of Arizona CEAC is designed around proof-of-concept research for the 7-acre greenhouse in Pima County. Things like fertilizer, growing media, light requirements and temperatures have been assessed with help from University staff and student employees. Growing plants indoors allows breeding to be carried out quickly and efficiently with fewer resources all year round. These processes can potentially help farmers by getting better quality crops varieties in their hands more quickly.

Bailey Warner BS ABE’15[?] displaying greenhouse tomatoes that she helped care for in the DeRuiter Tomato Variety Trial at UA-CEAC

Kaitlyn Elkind BS SWES’15 displaying greenhouse tomatoes that she helped care for in the DeRuiter Tomato Variety Trial at UA-CEAC

Lane Patterson BS ABE’09 & MS ABE’12 at his managerial position at Green Sense Farms growing vegetable crops indoors for an expanding market

Justin Curletta BS AgTM’15, Bailey Warner BS ABE’15[?] and Neal Barto, CEAC engineer, after transplant of greenhouse tomatoes for the DeRuiter Tomato Variety Trial at UA-CEAC

External Links

Controlled Enviornment Agriculture Center

Kacira Research Lab

CEA Sustainability