Solar provides power for homes and businesses while providing a haven for pollinators, who can help power agriculture. It’s a beautiful picture and a great opportunity for Hartland, Newfane and Niagara County.
There was a time when I believed that the opportunity to partner with EDF Renewables on a utility scale solar array in Hartland would be a generous way to pass our farm to the next generation. That’s still true, but I’m a farmer and I’ve never been one to leave well enough alone. I like to try and make little improvements where the opportunity presents itself, especially around my house and our farm. I don’t sit still very well – ask my wife. Coincidentally the next generation doesn’t either.
Speaking of, my kids — Jack, Haddie and Sid — have the opportunity to watch their dad work through what it means to care for God’s creation while still continuing to drive past a sign that has your last name on it each morning. The delicate balance of maintaining a good cash flow each week and month and year, and yet respecting the planet and the dirt that you need long term, is challenging. After all, farmers eat here and live here too.
That’s why I love the idea of “agrivoltaics,” a fancy word for “sharing the light.” The slightly taller solar panels (the top of the panel is usually not more than 12 feet tall) can harvest sunshine for electricity and the rest of the generous light splash from above can make grass grow for sheep to eat or, for the sake of our discussion today, make beautiful flowers grow for bees.
Pollinators (bees) have been struggling and it would be wise for us all to not simply fly over this issue but to land on it and learn what we can do. This includes farmers. Actually, bees act as natural farmers and they’re responsible for more than 30% of the food supply through natural pollination. However, models of wild bee abundance show declines of roughly 23% across the U.S. from 2008 to 2013 (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-map-highlights-bee-population-declines-across-us-180962268/).
There are crops that are more pollinator dependent than others but crops like soybeans and alfalfa are crops that our farm actually grows. Our neighbors in Niagara County grow other crops that are even more pollinator dependent like beautiful sunflowers, sweet strawberries, crisp apples, thriving pumpkins, delicious cherries and the list goes on. Allowing pollinators, as if I or a fence could stop them, to have a haven amongst the panels where chemistry and mowing aren’t used or are extremely limited, could and should allow their populations to flourish. Just take soybeans for example – studies show an increase of up to 18% for soy crops near solar facilities with pollinator habitat.
I love the idea of powering our homes and farms on the same acre. Thank you for reading and learning along with me about the great opportunities that solar and renewable energy can give to our farm and the next generation. It brings a whole new meaning to the term “solar farm.”
JEREMY L. VERRATTI, Gasport