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Can solar and agriculture co-exist?

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I THINK WE CAN ALL AGREE that no one wants to see solar panels on good farmland. Ideally, solar would be placed on more marginal land and not on prime soils. But, solar doesn’t need to be agriculture’s adversary. In fact, “Dual-use Solar,” “Agrivoltaics” or “Smart Solar” are all terms for a technology that is revolutionizing the way farmers approach energy production in New York State. By combining agricultural land use with solar energy production, farmers are able to generate additional income while also continuing to grow crops and raise livestock. Japan has been leading the way with this technology and Europe isn’t far behind. Here in the US, we are just starting to dip our toes in.

New York State is home to a thriving agriculture industry. Farmers in the region, however, face many challenges including harsh weather conditions and increasingly unpredictable growing seasons. Dual-use solar provides a solution to these challenges by providing farmers with an additional source of income and reducing their reliance on traditional energy sources. Dual-use solar looks a little different than what you may expect. Often the panels are higher off the ground and spaced wider. This may allow for livestock to graze, equipment to pass under and more sunlight to reach the ground.

American Farmland Trust (AFT) has recently developed Smart Solar Principles to help offer a blueprint for solar development. “If done well, Smart Solar projects can provide income for farmers and landowners and protect land well-suited for agriculture. America needs both—much more solar energy And productive, resilient farms and ranches.” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO.

As the demand for renewable energy continues to skyrocket, solar developers have an equally strong incentive to seek out as many acres of wide-open, sun-kissed farmland or pasture as landowners are willing to rent out to them. This, at its essence, is the problem that dual-use solar aims to address.

One of the primary benefits of dual-use solar is the ability to generate revenue from both energy production and agriculture. By leasing their land to solar energy companies, farmers can receive regular payments for the use of their property while still being able to grow crops and raise livestock. This additional income can help farmers maintain their businesses during tough economic times and provide more financial stability.

Dual-use solar also provides several environmental benefits. By using solar energy, farmers can reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Another potential advantage of dual-use solar is the increased efficiency of farming operations. Solar panels can provide shade for crops, reducing the impact of heat stress during hot summer months. This may lead to increased crop yields and healthier produce.

In New York State, dual-use solar makes sense given the state’s commitment to renewable energy. The state legislature has set a goal for the state to achieve 70% renewable energy by 2030. Dual-use solar is one of the technologies that can help to achieve this goal without impeding on productive farmland. Additionally, the state’s climate action plan calls for the expansion of renewable energy projects that can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

ASA Executive Director, Renee Bouplon, said, “It’s important for farmers and communities to think about the impacts on both the short and long-term agricultural viability if contemplating dual-use solar on farmland.  It might be a good option if it can enhance a farm operation, protect quality soils or otherwise support the existing local farm economy while at the same time meeting the growing need for clean energy.”

Dual-use solar is a technology that provides numerous benefits for farmers and agriculture in New York State. By combining agricultural land use with solar energy production, farmers can generate additional income, reduce their reliance on traditional energy sources, and contribute to a more sustainable future. As the state continues to prioritize renewable energy, dual-use solar is sure to play an increasingly important role in the agriculture industry.

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