When it comes to solar farms, sheep are great groundskeepers

There are often overlaps between what makes a spot good for livestock and where it is good for solar farms. Both are large and flat. They also get good sun because they are free of tall vegetation. Solar producers are leasing more farm land to support their operations.
While solar production can have environmental benefits, it can also lead to lower agricultural production. There is a growing interest in combining ag production with solar. Todd Schmit, Cornell University associate professor of Agribusiness, says this means bringing out sheep.

This is still a relatively new field. (Editor's note: Doug didn't see the pun until I asked). However, some farmers have partnered with solar producers. The former use the latters land to graze their sheep. Farmers pay solar producers to transport their sheep to their farms, where they feed on any weeds or other plants that could grow and block the Sun's rays.

The farmers get paid and the sheep are fed. Solar producers can manage their plants without the use of weed whackers and mowers. According to the American Solar Grazing Association's (ASGA) report, this industry has seen significant growth in New York State since 2017. According to the report, there are currently 900 acres of land that can be used for solar energy in New York State. There is still much to be done.


Why sheep?

The US does not produce much lamb and mutton. The USDA estimates that more than half the meat imported from Australia and New Zealand is American. It is possible to have sheep graze beside solar panels. This could be a good growth sector, not only for meat but also because sheep produce wool and milk. Schmit pointed out that the US does not consume much sheeps' meat at the moment, but the domestic market is expanding. Local economies could be boosted by raising livestock in the US.

There are several reasons why sheep are the best choice for solar farm grazing. They are also shorter than horses and cows. They can also eat almost any kind of forage, which aids in reducing plant growth. On the other hand goats will eat almost anything, which can pose a risk to solar farms.

Schmit stated that horses and cows are too large, so they can rub on the panels. The wires can be eaten by goats, but not sheep. It's amazing. This is why sheep are the ideal medium.

Sunny disposition

Schmit recently received $500,000 in funding, half from Cornell and the other half from USDA over three years. This funding will be used to expand the solar-sheep industry through the establishment of either a producer-owned or business cooperative. A New Dawn for Shepherds is Schmit's project. It is called Grazing Sheep under Utility-Scale solar Arrays. Schmit will be partnering with farmers and professionals in the solar industry. The ASGA is a non-profit organization that connects farmers and solar producers. They will decide what New Dawn looks like and what it offers farmers who want to increase their sheep production on solar farms, or start doing it.


Interviews with farmers, both current and prospective, will be conducted to find out their common goals and needs as well as their vision for the organization. Schmit and his team will speak to solar producers to gain a better understanding of their expectations.

It is still unclear what the organization will look like and what services it will offer. Schmit says that solar operations prefer to deal with one entity over multiple farms. The organization could act as a point of contact between the shepherds and them. It could help shepherds with planning, logistics, contract negotiation, marketing, planning, and delivery. It will take time to reach a consensus among farmers.

Consensus drives participation, Schmit told Ars. Consensus drives investment. Consensus drives greater interest in the project.

They will wool they or not?

(Pun was completely referring to that time.

Schmit said that although New Dawn is primarily focused on New York and New England, he and his staff will develop tools, guides and financial feasibility templates that can be used by others who are looking to start similar organizations. We want to create things that developers, farmers, and industries can use. He said that not everyone needs to start from zero.

Lexie Hain, co-founder of ASGA, stated that the ASGA business co-op might establish biosecurity protocols. There is a risk of sheep from different farms getting sick if they mix, and this could be an issue that needs to be addressed. It could negotiate for lower insurance rates and assist with details regarding transit.

Hain says that solar grazing is still an emerging field. However, farmers and operators are increasingly becoming interested in it. Although the ASGA was founded in 2019, it has 246 members as of February 2019. These include professionals from both the solar and sheep industries. Ars. told her that she believes there is a lot more interest and potential for it.