Solential Energy is fortunate to partner with industry leaders that help make the process of switching to sustainable solar power easy and more affordable. One of these partners is Christi Southerland, managing partner of Prosperity Ag, a company that specializes in helping farmers and agriculture-focused rural companies secure grants for solar projects and other needs. Solential’s Corey Miller recently sat down with Christi to discuss how she’s helping our nation’s farmers become more sustainable on a number of levels. Enjoy!
CM: How did you get your start in the solar energy grant consulting for agriculture?
CS: (Laughs) I’ll let you in on a little secret. Although I grew up in Indiana and agriculture is a big part of our state, I was a city girl who studied Criminal Justice at Indiana University. Right out of college, I took a job with Solential in business development. At the time, Solential was working in the Virgin Islands. Farmers there qualified for USDA grants for solar power so I was put in charge of securing grants for our customers. We won every grant we applied for—so lots of happy customers!
CM: What made you decide to make grant consulting for farmers and ag businesses your full-time gig?
CS: It kind of happened on its own. In 2014, I was introduced to the woman who started Prosperity Ag. She was looking for someone with experience to buy the company. Four other women and myself purchased Prosperity Ag and I was chosen to be the managing partner. We’re excited to continue the company’s legacy as a woman-owned company with the mission of serving the agriculture industry.
CM: Agriculture is a broad category these days. Who are your customers?
CS: We work with traditional row crop farmers like corn and soybeans, but also livestock operations—cattle, pigs and poultry. We also work with smaller, specialty farmers; those with orchards, berry operations, grass-fed beef, goats, and more “farm-to-table” operations. Most of our customers are family-owned farms. We also work with rural ag businesses because we found that farmers are deeply involved in their local communities and often have side jobs with fire departments, schools and farm-related businesses. There are grants out there for these things, too.
CM: Why are farmers looking to adopt solar power?
CS: Every farm is unique and has different needs, but we’ve found there are three main reasons why converting to solar is attractive. First, the energy cost savings with solar can be significant based on the size and type of farm. For example, large dairy and poultry operations use a tremendous amount of electricity. Generating your own with solar and cutting that monthly bill is a big deal.
Second, farmers are looking at the sustainability of their operations. By this I mean “how can I keep my farm’s operations as efficient and profitable as possible so it stays in the family.” So they’re looking at solar power as a way to be self-sustaining.
Third, farmers want to do their part for the environment. Contrary to what some people think, farmers are very cognizant of the importance of protecting the environment and being good stewards of the land they rely on to produce healthy crops and livestock. Solar is a clean, renewable energy source that benefits everyone.
CM: What about solar farming?
CS: There is some interest in putting some acreage in solar to diversify income, but most of the people I work with are interested in solar supporting their farms and businesses. For those who would like to re-purpose acreage to a solar farm, I suggest doing a lot of research to see if it makes sense. Solar farms are definitely a long-term project that requires significant investment.
CM: When considering solar, why should farmers use a grant consultant?
CS: The short answer is, while there are solar grants available to farmers, the process of getting a grant is time consuming, complex and can be frustrating. A grant consultant, especially one like Prosperity Ag whose primary focus is grants for solar projects, are here to navigate the process for our clients, from finding grant opportunities to determining eligibility for a grant to handling every detail of the application process. There are definitely a lot of grants available. It helps to have someone who lives in the space that can find the right ones for you.
CM: You mentioned that eligibility for a grant could be a problem. Can you explain that?
CS: You’d be surprised how many people get halfway through a grant application only to find out they’re not eligible. It’s so frustrating! It’s our job to help farmers avoid that situation. A huge part of our process is to pre-score a project to make sure our client is eligible for the grant they’re applying for and then to present the best application possible.
CM: And it works?
CS: Over the last ten years, we’ve helped farm clients in 38 states secure over 400 grants totally more than $60 million. It’s actually more than that, but we’ve been so busy writing new solar grants…
CM: What advice do you have for farmers and ag businesses considering a move to solar?
CS: I’m a criminal justice girl, so I encourage people to look at the facts first. Then ask yourself, does it make sense financially for the long term. If it does, definitely invest in a grant consultant.
The other important advice is, choose your solar solutions partner wisely. A solar system is a 40-year asset and you want a partner that offers the same longevity and that you can trust to keep the system operating at optimal levels. Because of the growing popularity of solar, there are also a growing number of solar installers that will sell standard packages. Their goal is to sell, install and goal. A reputable company life Solential evaluates each project, designs and installs a custom solution, works with permitting and the local utility company, and also stands behind the project for the long haul.
CM: So you’d recommend Solential?
CS: You’re a great partner and I only want the best for my farmer and agriculture clients.
Solential has partnered with Prosperity Ag to help farms and agricultural businesses make the move to sustainable solar power as affordable as possible. If you would like an introduction to Christi Southerland to explore grants that may be available to you, Solential is happy to connect you. Please contact Corey Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Prosperity Ag here and Solential here.