How solar companies collaborate with farmers

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(Photos and video: Lindsay France, Cornell University)

ELMIRA, NY (WETM) – One of the biggest concerns in the solar industry is the loss of farmland. The two industries are working together to create this unlikely couple: sheep and solar panels.

Sheep can graze on solar sites, eat grass and, in turn, maintain the land; creating a symbiotic relationship between sheep and solar panels. The American Solar Grazing Association connects solar companies with shepherds, where the companies essentially pay farmers to use the land.

“A solar energy company can hire a ranching farmer, rather than hiring a large operations maintenance company,” said Lexie Hain, co-founder of the American Solar Grazing Association.

It’s a win-win situation: solar companies don’t have to use and pay for fossil fuels to maintain the land, and herders have access to the land and are paid to graze their sheep.

Knowing that they must manage the vegetation to avoid shading [over the solar panels]… Going with mowers that use fossil fuels and bed stuff is ironic, ”said Todd Schmit, associate professor of agricultural economics at Cornell. “I think there is a real opportunity for [farmers] who are confronted with land constraints… to have access to a land base or to feed your sheep, and to be paid to do so.

Cornell is partnering with these farmers and solar companies to deepen the possible business opportunities of this collaboration. Schmit is the researcher leading the three-year, $ 500,000 project funded by Cornell and the US Department of Agriculture.

“We will see throughout this project if there is an interest from farmers in collaborative marketing, the development of a branded product for sheep raised under the sun’s rays … even an investment in their processing facilities”, Schmit said. “The point is, it’s a farmer-centric business model. “

New York currently has a target of 70% renewable energy by 2030. This collaboration could be the catalyst for further development and further help the state meet those targets.

“I think this, this project will help me secure the agricultural use of these solar sites,” Haim said.

The future could even possibly integrate other animals sharing the land with solar panels.

“They were even thinking beyond sheep, pasture-raised chickens, pollinators or… beehives,” Schmit said.

Who knows, the next slogan might be “Poultry & Panels”!

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