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As solar power takes up farmland, solar grazing pairs agriculture with renewables

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In the coming years, millions of acres of U.S. farmland will be converted and used for solar power projects. However, a new industry is emerging that could combine this renewable energy production with agricultural use.

The American Farmland Trust estimates that 83% of upcoming solar projects over the next few decades will be built on agricultural lands. Instead of choosing between farming and renewable energy, a concept called solar grazing proposes a way to bring these two sectors together.

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“So, our concept is you’re producing food and fiber in that same acre as you’re producing clean, renewable energy,” Lexie Hain, the founder of American Solar Grazing Association, said. “We think this is an amazing opportunity to to bring two industries together. Let’s bring together the renewable energy industry and let’s bring together farmers and agriculturalists and make this a success.”

Solar grazing involves raising solar panels about seven feet above the ground, allowing livestock such as cows and sheep to graze beneath and around the panels. This setup produces clean energy and helps maintains agricultural productivity at the same time. The panels are tilted to ensure water can flow underneath, promoting the growth of vegetation for livestock to consume.

Advocates of solar grazing highlight its potential to financially benefit both farm owners and utility providers. Energy companies currently spend significant amounts on grass mowing around solar panels, with some spending up to $25,000 annually. Solar grazing can reduce these costs by 75% in some cases, offering a sustainable vegetation management solution.

“It is controlling the vegetation so that the solar panels can function with sunshine on them, uninterrupted,” Hain said. “So, there’s minimized fire risk at solar sites from that same vegetation. Also, electrical service workers have free and easy access to maintaining equipment.”

Meanwhile, research indicates that farmers can earn approximately $500 per acre annually through solar grazing. Given that an average-sized solar installation occupies around 40 acres, this could result in a $20,000 profit for farmers and ranchers every year.

“Solar is being built in rural America,” Hain said. “And it is being built actually at scales where they you can have a sizable flock and a sizable income from that.”

Additionally, polling data suggests that integrating agriculture into solar facilities significantly increases public support for such projects. Respondents were over 80% more likely to endorse the construction of solar installations when they included agricultural components.

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[JACK AYLMER]

THE U.S. HAS A CHOICE TO MAKE.

WILL MILLIONS OF ACRES OF FARMLAND BE DEVOTED TO AGRICULTURE-

OR SOLAR POWER?

WELL, WHY NOT BOTH?

THE AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST ESTIMATES 83 PERCENT OF SOLAR PROJECTS OVER THE NEXT FEW DECADES WILL BE BUILT ON AGRICULTURAL ACREAGES.

BUT THERE’S A WAY TO USE THESE LANDS TO GENERATE ELECTRICITY AND RAISE LIVESTOCK AT THE SAME TIME.

IT’S CALLED SOLAR-GRAZING.

[LEXIE HAIN]

“So our concept is you’re producing food and fiber in that same acre as you’re producing clean, renewable energy.”

[JACK AYLMER]

TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN, SOLAR PANELS ARE RAISED AROUND SEVEN FEET ABOVE THE GROUND.

ANIMALS LIKE COWS AND SHEEP ARE THEN ABLE TO GRAZE BENEATH AND AROUND THEM.

THE PANELS ARE ALSO TILTED AT AN ANGLE TO ALLOW FOR WATER TO FLOW UNDERNEATH, ALLOWING THE VEGETATION THERE TO CONTINUE GROWING.

[LEXIE HAIN]

“When you’ve got a worker spending hours crouched under solar panels with wiring, it’s all electrified, and eventually people hit their heads. So why don’t you use sheep that can just walk right underneath?”

[JACK AYLMER]

THIS ARRANGEMENT FINANCIALLY HELPS BOTH FARM OWNERS AND UTILITY PROVIDERS.

SOME ENERGY COMPANIES PAY 25-THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR ON JUST MOWING THE GRASS AROUND THEIR SOLAR PANELS.

WITH SOLAR GRAZING- THOSE COSTS could be REDUCED BY UP TO 75 PERCENT IN SOME CASES.

[LEXIE HAIN]

“We think this is an amazing opportunity to to bring two industries together. Let’s bring together the renewable energy industry and let’s bring together farmers and agriculturalists and make this a success.”

[JACK AYLMER]

AND RESEARCH GROUPS FOUND THAT FOR EVERY ACRE DEVOTED TO SOLAR GRAZING, FARMERS MAKE BACK AS MUCH AS 500 DOLLARS ANNUALLY.

SO WITH AN AVERAGE SIZED SOLAR INSTALLATION TYPICALLY TAKING UP ABOUT 40 ACRES OF LAND, THAT COULD TRANSLATE TO ABOUT A 20-THOUSAND-DOLLAR PROFIT.

[LEXIE HAIN]

“Solar is being built in rural America. And it is being built actually at scales where they you can have a sizable flock and a sizable income from that.”

[JACK AYLMER]

THE CONCEPT OF SOLAR GRAZING can also make people more receptive to solar energy.

Recent polling shows RESPONDENTS were 80% more likely to support building a solar farm. 

POWERING OUR NATION’S FUTURE WITH RENEWABLE ENERGY CAN SOMETIMES MEAN UTILIZING SOME CREATIVE SOLUTIONS LIKE SOLAR GRAZING. TO LEARN ABOUT OTHER WAYS DIFFERENT INDUSTRIES ARE ADAPTING AROUND THE GREEN TRANSITION, DOWNLOAD THE STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS APP AND SIGN UP FOR ALERTS FROM ME- JACK AYLMER- FOR MORE.