Guess who’s not on lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis? Indiana’s farmers. It’s planting season so their social distancing is inside a tractor cab.
Despite the pandemic, it’s obvious the Hoosier state remains serious about feeding a hungry world. Let me share some numbers with you. As of 2018, Indiana had 56,649 farms, 94,350 farmers with 15 million acres—80 percent of the state’s landmass—in production and a total economic contribution of $31.2 billion. This includes $4.6 billion in agriculture products that are exported each year. Corn and soybeans represent 60 percent of agricultural products sold. Indiana is also a national leader in meat animals (3,000 hog farms), poultry and eggs, and dairies that produce four billion pounds of milk annually.
Like many industries, agriculture has its challenges: fluctuating commodities prices and rising operating costs, including energy. Low commodity prices and high-energy costs can spell disaster for family farms.
The importance of sustaining the future of Indiana’s farmers is not lost on the founders of the new non-profit coalition IN-ACRE (the Indiana Agriculture Coalition for Renewable Energy) with the mission of promoting a clean energy agenda that prioritizes Hoosier property rights and the farms that are the backbone of Indiana’s rural economy. Solential Energy and our sister company Prosperity Ag are strategic members of IN-ACRE.
Creating an intersection between Indiana’s farms and renewable energy resources
A top priority of IN-ACRE is creating awareness among farmers and landowners of the advantages of renewable energy sources like solar power and how to implement it on their properties. Thus, inviting renewable energy companies like Solential and Prosperity Ag along with farmers and landowners to join the coalition is essential, according to Jasmine Eisinger, who serves as project manager at IN-ACRE.
Jasmine wears a number of hats. In addition to recruiting coalition members, she is responsible for connecting farmers and landowners with renewable energy information and resources, engaging other agriculture organizations such as Indiana Pork Producers and youth groups like 4-H and FFA, and showcasing examples of successful renewable energy projects across the state. Demonstrating how farmers are benefiting from solar and wind will encourage others to transition to renewable energy.
Exploring the paths to solar adoption and ultimately, to a sustainable future
According to IN-ACRE, Indiana’s farmers are interested in ways they can benefit from solar power. Their motivation is learning how best to sustain the future of their farms, financially as well as environmentally. Interest generally fall into these categories:
- Creating a new revenue stream by leasing land to a solar farm, an approach that would deliver consistent recurring revenue.
- Securing a solar system for an individual farm’s use to stabilize and reduce energy costs over the long term, which in turn creates a buffer against volatility within the commodities market.
Regardless of the area of interest, farmers and landowners want to understand their options, the advantages of each, and the process and costs associated with adopting solar power.
Putting solar into practice for Indiana farmers
So just how will Indiana’s farmers put solar into practice if they opt for a system for personal use? It really varies by agricultural sector, Jasmine says. Corn, soybean, and wheat farmers will use solar energy to power grain dryers. Pork producers can use is to power temperature-controlled farrowing and wean-to-finish barns. Likewise, egg and dairy producers can power their operations. Agri-tourism ventures appreciate the cost benefits as well as demonstrating their commitment to renewable energy to their guests.
There’s also an interest in co-developing land for dual use, energy and ag-related production. Agrivoltaics is hugely popular in Germany and parts of Europe where farmers graze small livestock like sheep and goats under ground-mounted arrays, growers plant vegetables and berry bushes around the arrays, and apiaries plant flowers to support their bee colonies. Solential offers customers the option of planting wildflowers under its ground-mounted solar arrays as pollinator habitat and low maintenance ground cover and to support honey production.
Some of the issues farmers must consider include:
- Immediate, seasonal and long-term power needs,
- Type of structure do they want—mounted on the ground, on a barn roof or canopy-like structure,
- How much acreage to devote to the system,
- Where on the property it will be located, and
- Permitting and zoning.
Solar solutions providers like Solential walk farmers through these questions as part of a free consultation, planning and design phase. Permitting and zoning is a separate and critical phase that goes back to IN-ACRE’s mission to protect the rights of farmers as it relates to their land.
Jasmine says working with state and local government officials is an important part of the coalition’s mission to ensure farmers’ rights are protected, but also in ensuring compliance with permitting, zoning and community concerns. While most people understand the importance of moving to renewable energy is in terms of reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, education and communication among farmers and stakeholders goes a long way toward ensuring solar project success.
IN-ACRE welcomes all comers to the coalition
IN-ACRE would like to see Indiana’s farmers adopt solar and other renewable energy sources as long as it makes sense for their land and their needs. The group is encouraging farmers, agriculture industry groups, universities, public policy, and the solar, wind, and other renewable energy businesses to join the coalition. IN-ACRE plans to reach out to every farmer in Indiana. We’re counting on our members’ knowledge, support and contacts to bring us all together.
If you’d like to join Solential Energy as a partner in IN-ACRE, click here. If you’re a farmer or landowner who would like to more information on the opportunities solar power provides as a new revenue stream or sustainable energy for your farm’s use, please connect with me. Corey Miller. I’m happy to speak with you.