As the planet’s original environmentalists, farmers are often on the cutting edge of management best practices that help their businesses as well as the earth. In recent years, the push for clean and renewable energy has become stronger, and some farmers have responded with solar and wind farms that help power their operations by harnessing the earth’s renewable resources. In doing so, they’ve found not only a more efficient way to produce power while helping the environment, but also another added benefit – a steady source of income.
“With farming, once the solar and wind systems are put into place, the revenue streams are very regular and dependable,” says Steve Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at NC State University. “By taking a portion of land and putting in renewable systems, farmers can create a steady revenue stream that enables other land to be used for agricultural purposes while taking some of the risk out. It’s about balance.”
Farmers do, however, have to be aware of the initial investment of installing these types of systems, almost treating solar and wind installations as another crop, just with the benefit of a more stable profit.
“There is the discussion of where it makes sense to locate large-scale renewable energy resources like solar and wind farms,” Kalland says. “It doesn’t work well in a city. You need a big, flat piece of land in a rural community.”
He adds that currently, solar farms are more forgiving in resource availability, since the country has plenty of sunlight to power them. According to a recent report by Open Energy Group, southwestern and southeastern states have the highest potential for successful solar farms in terms of average daily exposure to the sun’s rays. Wind farms, on the other hand, are found more in the Midwest region where the resource is much more prevalent.
“We’re starting to see new wind technology with taller towers and better turbines. Those farms can expand to include more of the Southeast and eastern regions, since they can now use slower wind,” Kalland says.
Kalland adds that sometimes farmers with solar and wind farms transition into ecotourism as part of their operations, offering tours of the farm’s windmills and solar panels for interested consumers.
Better for the Environment
Although a steady income is important, the more significant use for wind and solar is keeping the planet healthy.
“The environmental aspect is why people were interested in the first place,” Kalland says. “It’s a low- to no-carbon solution. These systems don’t produce carbon emissions or really any air emissions for the most part (in comparison to coal). From an air quality and climate change standpoint, solar and wind farms are vastly superior.”
Texas is among the most advanced states in the U.S. in clean energy. In 2015, Texas generated 10 percent of all of its electricity from wind – one of only 11 states to do so. In terms of numbers, wind accounted for more than 11,000 megawatts of power.
This progress comes in part from government pushes for renewable energy sources. Texas and North Carolina both have renewable energy mandates, which require utilities to sell or produce a certain percentage of electricity from renewable resources.
AgAmerica Lending, primarily an agricultural land lender, also provides financing to the rural infrastructure industry. Brian Philpot, AgAmerica Lending President and CEO explains, “We’re supporting solar farms, wind farms, cell towers, and broadcast towers in these rural areas because they ultimately help our client, the American farmer.”
Agriculture and Renewable Resources Infographic: