By Kimberly Hagen, Grazing Specialist, University of Vermont, Extension and Alex DePillis, Senior Agricultural Development Coordinator, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets
A new publication, “Guide to Farming-Friendly Solar,” produced by the UVM Extension and the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, highlights the potential for farming-friendly solar and gives examples of three successful projects on Vermont farms. All three solar projects are mounted on the ground, and yet designed to be compatible with continued farming.
Project #1: McKnight Farm in East Montpelier tucked solar panels in a rocky area of their organic dairy farm that cannot be planted or grazed because it must be maintained as a buffer from non-organic farmland.
Project #2: Open View Farm in New Haven installed solar panels in rows about twice as far apart as necessary in order to allow sheep to continue grazing, which they have been doing now for three years.
Project #3: Maple Ridge Meats in Benson built a solar array last spring next to a slaughterhouse, featuring panels that are high enough off the ground to allow cattle to graze underneath.
While the Vermont agricultural community now boasts several diverse examples of farms utilizing solar energy in ways that are compatible with farming practices, solar will not be the right solution for all farmers.
When UVM Extension Grazing Specialist Kimberly Hagen interviewed representatives from McKnight Farm, Open View Farm, and Maple Ridge Meats, they each emphasized how important it was for the farmers to manage how the project would work for them, both in the design, and in the operation.
“The farmer knows the land and probably has a good idea of how they want it used,” said Greg Hathaway of Maple Ridge Meats. “You also have to think about whether the income from this will offset the loss of that land. And whether the array is to be set up for machinery to pass through too, or clustered closer together – but then losing some ability for vegetation to grow beneath due to being shaded out. Lots to think about.”
“As our three example farms have demonstrated, in the right conditions, solar has the potential to generate significant power for farm use without reducing land yields,” said Agency of Ag Development Specialist Alex DePillis. “The new Guide to Farming Friendly Solar highlights specific data from a demonstration project in Massachusetts that showed no reduction in pasture yield for higher-off-the-ground installation after university researchers sampled pasture yield four times per growing season, two years in a row. I hope Vermont farmers find this guide to be a useful introduction to the potential benefits of solar power generation on farms.”
To read or download the full Guide to Farming Friendly Solar, visit the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission’s website.