Harvesting Sunshine: How agri-solar is transforming farming 

AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

By Mary Strevel

October 27, 2023

“Solar-powered farms can not only reduce emissions but facilitate carbon sequestration in the soil, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts,” Monroe County resident Mary Strevel writes.

This op-ed was originally published in the Monroe News.

In a world with an ever-increasing demand for food, climate change issues and dwindling natural resources, the agri-solar initiative emerges as a beacon of hope. This project combines the power of solar energy with traditional farming practices.

‘CBS Saturday Morning’ caught my attention when they did a program on agri-solar initiatives. This program focused on the benefits of farmers partnering with the solar industry with a win for both the farmer and solar energy.

This particular project paired a sheep farmer with a farm with a field of solar panels. Without the sheep, the owner would have to employ someone to cut the grass around the panels. The majority of this maintenance is very time consuming, especially weed whipping around the panels. The sheep do the job for the farmer. They eat all the grass and weeds and keep it all tidy.

Solar panels are often mounted on raised structures to allow farming activities to continue underneath. A key benefit of agri-solar is crops can be grown around the panels with increased yield and a reduction in water usage due to the panels filtering the sun which helps the soil retain moisture. An added benefit is the panels protect from extreme weather conditions.

Projects range from beekeeping, cattle and sheep grazing, and, of course, growing food. Aquaculture ponds can have water circulation and aerators powered by solar.

Agro-processing like drying fruits, milling grains or processing dairy products can also be powered by solar. Solar energy can be used to power refrigeration units for storing harvested crops thus reducing loss.

Solar can also provide electricity for controlled environments in greenhouses, optimizing crop growth. Solar-powered irrigation systems can be employed, giving the farmer a consistent water supply even in remote areas, further boosting crop yield.

Solar energy has been hailed as one of the cleanest and most abundant sources of renewable energy. The agri-solar projects harness this energy as well as allow farming, grazing and other projects to happen at the same time.

This clean energy can be used to power the farm’s operations but also be fed into the grid, contributing to the local energy source. Farmers can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels as well as reduce their costs.

Agriculture is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, due to the use of fossil fuels. Solar-powered farms can not only reduce emissions but facilitate carbon sequestration in the soil, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts.

They also can provide power during grid outages ensuring continuity of farm operations during outages. Agri-solar farms are more self-reliant and through this initiative can increase the overall value of farmland.

While the agri-solar initiative holds immense reward, it is not without its challenges. Initial startups can be expensive. Governments offer help with these initiatives as well as tax credits in some areas.

In some communities, including some townships in Monroe County, boards are voting against large-scale solar projects which have the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of farming operations. ‘No to solar’ signs put out by special interest groups popped up when township boards were going to vote on these initiatives with people complaining of misinformation.

There has been a national effort to foment local opposition to renewable energy. Farmers leasing their land are in conflict with landowners because they have no control over installation of solar panels.

Landowners would argue that strict regulations on land use, including restrictions on large-scale solar farms, can infringe on their property rights and hinder economic freedom.

These restrictions are coming from local township boards who have been influenced by special interest groups.

The farmers lose the ability to do what they want on their own land. It’s surprising that people would want the government to restrict what they can have on their own property.

The agri-solar initiative represents a blend of modern technology and traditional farming practices. It offers a path to sustainable agriculture, empowering farmers, mitigating climate change and ensuring food security for future generations. Governments need to collaborate with farmers forming a path to a more sustainable future for our world.

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