For many farmers, solar power has been a way out of a damaged and almost broken industry in recent years. With the bills mounting up and no real promise of a better tomorrow, many farmers have sold their land to companies looking for the space to build solar farms as Australia moves towards a sustainable future.
You only need to look at the Burdekin region in North Queensland, once regarded as Australia’s ‘food bowl’, which has seen countless farmers sell up. Then there are the solar panels replacing sugar cane fields.
But now there is a way that solar and farmers can work together to provide a lucrative future for both Australia’s agriculture and sustainable energy industries. And it’s exciting.
Being a farmer in 2021 is tough work
Australian farmers are facing enormous challenges right now. For many years, much of the country has been crippled by extreme drought. Recent rain events have helped ease the pain in some regions along the eastern seaboard, but these rains haven’t provided the silver bullet to help struggling farmers rise out of the dust and despair.
Price wars between major supermarkets have made it harder for farmers to make a living, especially when only the best of their product is likely to end up on the big players’ shelves. Seasonal workers who used to flock to Australia to work on farms dried up like the soil that was once rich with nutrients, but is now arid.
But the hammer blow came with COVID-19. Things had just started to look up for the Australian agricultural industry. The rain was beginning to fall again, and international trade disputes looked like they would be resolved. The Aussie economy was starting to rebound. But then the shutters fell on businesses and supply chain routes, which made a promising year one of the worst ones yet in recent times.
Farmers and solar panels work together in harmony
Arizona is a major agricultural hub in the United States that exports products of all descriptions to over 70 countries worldwide. They also have felt the bite of everything impacting Australian farmers, but research in Arizona could be providing the solution to save farmers worldwide.
The University of Arizona’s School of Geography, Development and Environment has come up with a simple idea they call agrivoltaics, which allows for produce to grow year-round under solar panel arrays which power the entire operation.
Instead of solar companies looking to raise farmland for solar panel arrays, they can work with farmers and elevate the panels above the crops, providing protection and an unlimited supply of energy to allow for year-round crops.
This is a way where farmers no longer have to surrender their land for solar farms, and local communities can still tap into the benefit of clean, green and affordable electricity. Instead of buying farms, the solar companies pay rent and elevate their panels, allowing for a sustainable environment for all.