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October 30, 2019

How Farmers are Using Solar Farming to Grow Their Bottom Line

Investing in solar panels can lead to increased revenue.

In recent years, there has been a shifting focus on renewable energy and reduction of carbon production in the attempt to slow climate change. While solar energy has been one of the most effective solutions to carbon reduction, the agriculture industry has taken it a step further, giving way to solar farms. Today, many solar farms are being used by farmers as a cash crop, especially in the instances where panels have been installed on dormant agricultural land.

Here are four major benefits to incorporating solar energy into your ag operation.

1. Decreased Energy Costs

The most obvious benefit of placing solar panels on your land is the direct benefit of reduced energy costs. Thinking in terms of energy use, farm operations require a high volume of energy and fuel to carry out daily activities. Running motors and machinery, water heating, air conditioning, ventilation, transportation, and lighting require some form of energy. With the addition of solar panels, these costs can be drastically reduced.

Operations that use diesel-reliant equipment and motors know how volatile the price of that fuel can be. While it would be an investment in the beginning, switching to electric equipment (in combination with the addition of solar panels) could prove to be much more cost-effective in the long run.

2. Increased Pollinator Population

Farmers understand how important pollinators are to the success and growth of their crops. Besides improving biodiversity and preventing soil erosion, more pollinators means more fruitful yields. One way to increase the pollinator population is by allowing native plants to grow underneath solar panels. These pollinator-friendly spaces, when positioned in proximity to crops being grown, can lead to roaming pollinators which help to boost production. Plus, they can add some much-needed visual appeal to the otherwise aesthetically bland flat panels.

3. Dual Usage of Land and Higher Profitability

Native plants aren’t the only type of vegetation that can be planted under the shade of solar panels. When solar panels are installed about 8 feet off the ground, it allows for certain crops to be planted below. “Shade-happy” vegetables, when planted with a 3-4 foot gap between clusters of panels, can grow just as well as they would have in full exposure to the sun. Growing plants under panels can also increase water efficiency, as these crops retain more water than those that are consistently exposed to direct sunlight. It’s important to note that these crops require harvesting by hand.

Another creative installation option is to install solar panels on top of greenhouses. One farm in California experimented with this technology, creating a “smart” greenhouse. After adding panels above their greenhouse, they found that 80 percent of crops were unaffected by the somewhat darker lighting, while 20 percent actually grew better with the change in conditions. This demonstrates one way that producing solar energy and growing crops are not mutually exclusive—on the contrary, they can work hand-in-hand to produce stronger monetary yields.

4. Selling Excess Energy

Many farmers are installing solar panels on their land not just to power their own operations, but to sell the excess energy they produce. This can be particularly profitable when the solar panels are stationed on land that isn’t being used or has low productivity. Instead of planting cash crops that will require care and harvesting, adding solar panels and selling the energy that they produce can result in even more dependable and reliable revenue streams.

Deciding Whether Solar Farming is Worth the Investment

Farmers who choose to commit their personal funds to install solar panels may face a substantial initial investment—much like a new farm operation or the addition of a new crop. However, the long-term environmental and economic benefits are undeniable. Solar farming can revolutionize your farm by improving energy efficiency, increasing pollinators (and by extension, production), and adding a reliable revenue stream.

If you’re ready to begin to further capitalize off land and explore the exciting new possibilities that solar farming has to offer, AgAmerica can help you increase your working capital so you can invest in the future of farming. Learn more by speaking with one of our lending experts today.

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