Bees, sheep, crops: solar developers tout multiple benefits | Agriculture
Buzz and fluff
At Cascadilla Community Solar Farm in upstate New York, sheep nibble grass among solar panels while bees and butterflies collect pollen from native flowers.
Cornell University researcher Niko Kochendoerfer said initial data from his three-year study shows light grazing produces abundant bees and wildflowers, while preventing plants from providing shade. Some rare bee species are emerging.
Farmers are paid $ 300 to $ 550 per acre per year to graze their sheep on solar sites, which increases farm incomes while saving them the cost of renting or buying pasture, said Kochendoerfer, who owns around 400 sheep with her fiance, Lewis Fox. Grazing is cheaper than traditional site management, she said.
Fox has sheep at solar sites from southern Pennsylvania to Vermont.
“Certain times of the year… the sites will be like a butterfly house in a zoo – there are only butterflies everywhere,” he said.
Sheep feed at solar facilities in more than 20 states, said Lexie Hain, director of the American Solar Grazing Association and Fox business partner. This also happens in the UK, other parts of Europe, Uruguay and Australia.
Vegetables in solar shade
In Longmont, Colorado, Jack’s Solar Farm provides another example of solar meet farming. Instead of wheat and hay as before, the farm’s 24 acres are home to 3,276 panels, generating enough electricity for about 300 homes. Under them grow tomatoes, squash, kale and green beans.