Imagine fields of solar arrays with crops growing under them, tilting up and down, depending on plant, solar and producer needs.
Imagine new agricultural industries, solar grazing and solar beekeeping, using grasses and flowering plants under and beside solar farms.
Imagine Kansas adding solar energy to its diverse agriculture and energy portfolio, not only providing economical energy and new agricultural opportunities to our state, but also the country.
It’s time to stop thinking agriculture and solar farms are mutually exclusive and focus on how they work together. Agriculture and solar fields are not competing industries. Kansas has more sunny days than the “Sunshine State” of Florida, ranking eighth for sunniest states, according to data analysis website Stacker. Combining agriculture, the state’s largest economic and industrial driver, with solar, results in economic juggernaut.
Kansas is strategically placed to lead in the relatively new field of agrivoltaics. Recent research shows that in areas with high solar radiation and temperature, certain crops growing under solar arrays have an advantage. The western half of Kansas meets this definition, and climate change computer models show Kansas becoming hotter, drier and sunnier.
Agrivoltaics expanded in the 2000s. In 2019, Greg Barron-Gafford, professor in the University of Arizona School of Geography, Development and Environment, published the results of 10 years of research on growing vegetables and herbs under solar arrays. He and his team found pepper production was three times greater, and tomato, two times greater, under solar panels than direct sun.
The same research found irrigation is more efficient under solar arrays than uncovered crop ground. Crop growth was supported for days rather than hours after irrigation and soil moisture remained higher in the agrivoltaics system. That’s good news for those living with limited water resources. Additional moisture, trans
Additional moisture, trans pired into the air by the plants, cools the solar panels, increasing their efficiency. As panels warm, their efficiency drops. Cooler temperatures for workersing and working on the crops are yet another benefit.
Agriculture industries of solar grazing and solar beekeeping take advantage of grasses and flowering plants growing under and along the edges of solar fields. Sheep, the most common solar grazing animals, benefit from solar panel shading. By grazing plants under and around the panels, sheep prevent plant overgrowth that could shade the panels. In addition to energy output, the areas provide agricultural income. In like fashion, commercial beekeepers are partnering with solar producers, taking advantage of native plants around and under solar arrays for nectar sources, also benefiting declining native pollinators.
As these new agriculture industries grow, entrepreneurs forge ahead. Bryon Kominek installed the largest commercially active agrivoltaic system on his land in Boulder County, Colorado, and Heartland Farms in Rush County, Kansas, plans to apply for a USDA grant to install a small agrivoltaic system.