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Should Farmers Switch to Solar?

Solar panels are going to require millions of acres of land to be a viable solution against climate change. In particular, these acres are owned by farmers. Scientists are on a mission to make it work for both parties by putting solar panels in the same location as crops.

Crop land is an ideal place for different types of solar development. It’s large, flat land that recieves plentiful amounts of sunlight and contains good drainage. Crops on the land are not a problem because it’s easy to build the solar panels above the crops.

The Department of Energy report in 2021 said that by 2050, a maximum of 0.5% of land in the United States would be required for solar growth. This would help us get closer to climate change goals. 0.5% doesn’t seem like much, but when translated into surface area, this would be around 9.5 million acres.

There are a couple of issues. One of the biggest problems is convincing “old-fashioned” families that solar panels work and are beneficial. Some farmers dislike them because they see the development as expansion. They also see it as a threat towards crops. Additionally, it’s challenging to convince farmers that solar panels work. Farmers want proof that solor works before they allow the assembly of these devices, but solar companies can’t prove their equipment works if farmers don’t first give them access. This overall leads to a never-ending cycle where both sides struggle to come towards a middle. Another con lies in the cost and size of solar panels. The equipment is too large for the rows in the fields, and making the rows just five feet wider would require almost 200 more acres. Alternatively, cables coule be risen by three feet, but this would cost $9 million dollars.

“Solar won’t be as productive as if there was no agriculture, and the ag won't be as productive as if there was no solar” and “together, they can still be really important and add so much to help achieve all goals”, said Stacie Peterson. who oversees the Montana-based AgriSolar Clearinghouse.

Solar power provides income to farmers who lease their land. It’s not just beneficial for farmers, but also the global planet as it helps decrease greenhouse gas consumption and release.

Scientists are developing some different alternatives in case corn isn’t an option. One idea is sheep, which doesn't damage the equipment. They don’t chew or jump on the panels or wires. This will also provide a large amount of affordable land which has been hard to obtain. Adding on, sheep would maintain plant populations as they graze the land.

Whatever the option, solar panels are needed to decrease greenhouse gas. It’s important to find a way for farmers and solar companies to coexist on the same land. Fortunately, there are ways to do this that can benefit both farmers and solar producers.

[Source: Indianapolis Star; Wisconsin Watch; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

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