Solar siting is advancing rapidly in New York to meet the state’s climate goals of 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2040, and much of that development is targeted towards farmland. However, with the right policies, incentives and research, solar development can avoid or minimize the most serious negative impacts on the availability and viability of New York’s best farmland and the strength of its agricultural economy and food security. Implementing the smart solar siting strategies recommended in this report can help farmers and agricultural communities capitalize on the benefits of solar development, explore new markets, participate in cutting-edge research partnerships, and continue growing the food we need now and in the future, all while combatting climate change.
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The Montgomery Sheep Farm in North Carolina might be taking mixed use to another level. Not only is it a working sheep farm, it also offers a bed and breakfast for two-legged guests, breeds dogs, and is now using solar to power the entire operation. A WFAE reporter recently visited the farm and reports the farm’s 20-megawatt solar array has not only provided it with additional income related to clean energy, but keeps workers employed and has reduced costs.
One important solar benefit is a reduction in maintenance costs. The grass under the solar panels no longer needs to be cut, thanks to the sheep who graze under the solar panels on a rotating schedule. This not only reduces costs, but also allows the farm to raise more lambs per acre.
“We can have many more lambs per acre than if you put them on a normal pasture because of the solar panels,” Joel Olsen told WFAE, owner of the Montgomery Sheep Farm.
Olsen says another big benefit is the shade provided by the solar panels. The shade not only provides cool areas for the sheep during hot summer days, but it helps the grass grow thicker which means more food for the sheep. This thick grass is much more suitable for the sheep than grass typically grown in an open field, according to Olsen.
The farm currently operates on 200 acres, raising sheep, chickens, and horses. Roughly 400 sheep are rotated on a weekly basis under the solar panels in 30 designated grazing areas.
“If you can provide farmers additional income related to clean energy, additional income related to grounds maintenance, you know, it allows our rural areas to remain beautiful and have the people living there to remain employed,” Olsen said.