How Solar Energy and Farming Can Benefit Each Other

How Solar Energy and Farming Can Benefit Each Other
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While the words “solar” and “farm” may go hand in hand when you’re referring to the massive fields of solar panels designed to collect sunlight and generate electricity, this sort of facility isn’t usually associated with the agricultural style of farm. Despite this disconnect between the terms, these two industries can and should go hand in hand, especially as they both move forward toward the goal of a zero-carbon future. How can solar and agriculture benefit one another?

Long-Term Income Generation

Global populations continue to climb, with some experts projecting we’ll reach 8 billion people living on this planet by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023. The demand for food isn’t going to shink or go away, but some of the biggest crops, like soybeans, corn, and wheat, have dropped to the same price that they would have sold for in 2010. Add the challenges presented by the global pandemic, and it’s not surprising that bankruptcies are climbing in the agricultural sector.

Installing solar fields on previously used fields — or even ones that are currently in use — can create a form of passive, long-term income generation. Farmers and landowners can work with solar providers, who may be interested in leasing the land to build their solar farms. This passive income generation doesn’t stop when the growing season is over, allowing farms to continue to make money year-round, while they might be using the off-season to maintain equipment or plan new crop rotations.

Aiding in Crop Rotation

Before the widespread use of fertilizers and other substances to modify soil nutrition, crop rotation was the norm. Since solar arrays don’t have to be secured to an open field as they would to a roof or other building, the farmer can easily move them from field to field, with just the added chore of running the necessary cabling to the new location.

Farmers can use fields that need to lay fallow for a season or a year to generate electricity and supplement their income, while they move their crops to other fields.

Adding Shade for Sensitive Crops

Solar arrays don’t have to be built on empty fields. These arrays can be the perfect tool for shielding sensitive crops from the heat of the midday sun, allowing farmers to continue to use the space. Vineyards have started installing solar panels above their grapevines, which both provide shade and generate electricity to support vineyard operations, which reduces the facility’s reliance on the local power grid and, thus, on fossil fuels.

In the case of winemakers, these solar panels are allowing them to continue to grow grapes and make wine in spite of the changing climate that is making it more difficult for these grape varieties to thrive.

Improving Sustainability

Farming may work with the earth, but it isn’t the most sustainable industry in the world. The majority of heavy farm equipment relies on diesel or other fossil fuels, and the process of growing, harvesting, and processing these various products can have a large carbon footprint. Adding solar panels to a farm — and choosing to invest in electric or battery-powered farm equipment — could help reduce that carbon footprint by eliminating diesel from the equation, and by generating most or all of the electricity needed to keep the agricultural fleet powered.

The Future of Solar and Farming Together

This is only a small list of the potential applications for solar in the farming industry. Regardless of its eventual uses, the fact that we need to start making more sustainable choices is absolute. The world is collectively moving toward a zero-carbon future, and incorporating solar into modern farms is one step in the right direction toward creating that sustainable future.

 

Jane Marsh works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co.



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