It isn’t so easy to be a farmer these days. Farming has always involved long hours, hard work and the uncertainties of weather and yield. The 21st Century has added new and unique challenges such as increasingly unpredictable weather, insect infestation and disease, and low commodity prices. Add in sudden tariffs and farmers struggle even more to make ends meet. The default rate for farmers’ loans is the the highest in at least nine years.
One thing that remains reliable for farmers is the sun. It rises in the morning and goes down at night. The sun can be trusted, unlike politicians, rain, or commodity prices. These days, many farmers are taking advantage of the dependability of the sun to make money from a new cash crop: solar energy.
The trend is spreading. North Carolina has been a leading solar energy state for several years and a 2017 report found that solar energy generates 30% of the income of many farms. Typical annual rent payments for farmland by solar companies range from $500 to $1,400 per acre in North Carolina.
A growing list of states have clean energy mandates targeting 100% use of renewable energy. These mandates provide incentives for farmers that make installing solar a financially smart decision and falling prices for solar installations make it an even better deal.
Solar works well when co-located on a farm and can be built in ways that minimizes impact. It is quiet, uses almost no water, doesn’t pollute, and if it is decommissioned, the land can go back to its previous use. If the solar facilities are raised up, the same land can be used to graze livestock or grow shade-tolerant crops.
Harvesting the sun is the new cash crop
Photo, posted December 25, 2017, courtesy of Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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