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The 5 Fundamentals of CEA

April 17, 2024

This week we’re featuring a post from AmHydro VP Joe Swartz. Widely regarded as one of the industry’s foremost experts on CEA and hydroponic technologies, Joe amassed over 30 years of experience as a farmer prior to joining AmHydro. Now, he’s dedicated to sharing his expertise with our customers and helping farmers succeed both horticulturally and economically.


It doesn’t matter whether you’re a brand new farmer or an industry veteran with decades of experience: You need to pay attention to the fundamentals. In fact, I often find this to be a message that long-time pros need to hear more than anyone.

In my experience, brand new growers are acutely aware of their knowledge gaps. They are actively seeking out best practices, keeping it simple, and testing their work constantly. On the other hand, advanced growers (myself included!) can get lazy. 

We think we’ve seen it all and done it all. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, which is why I’m so passionate about this message.

I heard once that legendary guitarist Eric Clapton would spend hours a day just practicing scales. Even at the height of his career, he still made time for the basics. Similarly, I really believe that the neglect of basic fundamentals are the cause of almost all challenges in CEA. 

Here are five things that you should be thinking about daily, whether you’re running a multi-acre operation, or you’ve just planted your first crop.


Environmental factors are critical. You need to make sure you have the necessary equipment to provide the correct parameters for your crops. Light, temperature, relative humidity, C02; these are all crucial environmental factors. Of course this is obvious, but you can’t slack off even if you have state-of-the-art sensors. You need to make sure your equipment is well-maintained and working optimally. Even our most bulletproof systems need to be monitored and their results verified.



Nutrition in CEA is so simple. Once you optimize your nutrition blend and your pH levels, you can really just set it and forget it. Right?

Wrong! You can’t forget it! Variances in product quality can still occur. Blends can be mixed incorrectly. pH levels can fluctuate. It’s not that you need to be stressed about this (or any of these aspects) all the time. Just don’t take it for granted.


3.Cleanliness and Organization

This is an area in which long-term growers are actually more prone to error than new growers. We all know how important it is to keep your space clean. A dirty greenhouse (one with debris, weeds, standing water, etc.) introduces more vectors for pests and disease, and can even introduce workplace hazards. But when you’ve been working in the same space for years, it’s easy to get used to a certain level of clutter or mess. It’s easy to ignore the unused equipment piled in the corner. It’s easy to ignore the puddle that keeps appearing. But you do so at your own risk! Try to look at your space with new eyes every day to ensure a high standard of cleanliness.

Another issue related to organization is empty channels. Empty space is just lost revenue. If you don’t currently have buyers for all of your produce, use the surplus as motivation to find some! The last thing you want is to find a willing buyer and realize that you can’t meet their needs because you weren’t growing at full capacity.


4.Aggressive Marketing

The most appealing aspect of CEA growing for me and a lot of people is just that: GROWING. But we can’t do any of this unless we can effectively market and sell our crops. Yes, there are tactics and techniques you can use to find buyers, but it’s also a question of time. You need to dedicate a significant amount of time to marketing and sales.

To avoid complacency, I recommend regularly asking yourself two questions: First: How can I find new customers for my existing products? And: What new products can I grow and sell to existing customers?

5. Integrated Pest Management

In a sense, this is already covered by the first two points here, but I’m going to call it out explicitly as the fifth unique fundamental, because it deserves attention on its own. No matter how many years into the business you are, if you forget to focus on proactive pest management, you can experience heavy crop loss just like that. Integrated pest management is not reactive. It’s a daily practice. Just like preventative medicine keeps your body healthy through exercise, proper diet, and more, integrated pest management is something you can’t afford to skip if you want your farm to stay healthy..

I consider these the five most important fundamentals, but I’d love to hear what you think. Anything you’d add or replace?

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