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Creating a Sustainable Future for Agriculture: How Agrivoltaics and Regenerative Farming Work Together

As farmers and landowners become more interested in leasing land for solar farms, many share similar concerns over maintaining the integrity of the land and continuing farming practices. Recent developments in agrivoltaic and regenerative farming technology have re-defined the sustainable future for agriculture. Combining traditional farming practices and solar can benefit both the land and renewable energy generation. In this article, we will introduce you to agrivoltaics and regenerative farming, their benefits, and how they can be applied to solar farms.

What is Agrivoltaics?

Agrivoltaics, also known as agrophotovoltaics or APV, is a system that combines agricultural land use with the generation of solar energy. In an agrivoltaic system, solar panels are installed above crops or grazing land, providing shade and shelter for the plants or animals below. At the same time, the solar panels generate electricity, which can be fed back into the grid or used on-site. 

The concept of agrivoltaics is not new, and the first systems were developed in the 1980s1. However, it is only in recent years that agrivoltaics has gained popularity as a sustainable solution for both food and energy production, with the market seeing an annual growth rate of 10.1%, valued at $9.3 billion2

Benefits of Agrivoltaics

Increased Crop Yields 

Early studies of agrivoltaics have shown promising results on crop yields.  A study conducted on rice crops in Japan found that crop yields under solar panels were higher than those in open fields3. The shading effect of the panels helped to regulate the temperature and moisture levels, creating a more stable growing environment for the crops. 

Reduced Water Usage 
Agrivoltaics can also help to reduce water usage by providing shade and reducing evaporation. In a study conducted in Arizona, it was found that agrivoltaic systems used 75% less water than traditional agriculture practices4

Protection Against Extreme Weather

The solar panels in an agrivoltaic system can also provide protection against extreme weather, such as hailstorms, by acting as a barrier between the crops and the elements. This can help to reduce crop damage and ensure a more consistent yield.

Dual-Use Farming Multiplies Income Streams for Landowners

Agrivoltaics gives farmers the opportunity to receive additional income from leasing their land for solar while still participating in any prior farming practices, multiplying their income stream.

Agrivoltaics, alongside farmers who lease their land for solar facilities, provides rural parts of the U.S. with access to renewable energy while maintaining agricultural production. In recent years, agrivoltaics has become intertwined with regenerative farming to create an apprehensive cooperation between farming and the emerging global transition toward clean energy.

What is Regenerative Farming?

Regenerative farming is a holistic approach to agriculture that focuses on improving soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. It involves practices such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and reduced tillage, as well as the use of natural fertilizers and pest control methods. The goal of regenerative farming is to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that benefits both the farmer and the environment. 

The Mindful Cooperation Between Agrivoltaics and Regenerative Farming

Agrivoltaics can play a significant supporting role on a farm that follows the principles of regenerative farming, creating a synergistic relationship that benefits both practices. At a more general level, the goals of both agrivoltaics and regenerative farming are highly complementary with a focus on sustainability and the health of the land.

Agrivoltaics supports regenerative farming by designing solar racking and the environment underneath and around the solar panels to promote agriculture. The solar panels provide shade for crops, reducing water usage and protecting against extreme weather. Planting pollinators encourages bee populations. These end effects feed into the main goals of regenerative farming such as improving soil health and biodiversity and reducing the need for chemical inputs.

The most obvious benefit from agrivoltaics to regenerative farming is the access to clean energy from installing solar. That can either come in the form of a community solar subscription, a shared solar solution that offers a 10% discount, or powering the farm directly from the solar panels. By combining these two practices, farmers can create a self-sustaining system that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.

Benefits of Regenerative Farming

Regenerative farming has many benefits, including improving soil health, reducing erosion, and increasing biodiversity. By improving soil health, regenerative farming can lead to increased crop yields and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It can also help to reduce water usage and improve water quality by reducing runoff and erosion. 

Overcoming Misperceptions of Solar Farming

Maintaining Farming Practices 

One hesitation that some farmers may have about leasing their land for solar panels is the fear that it will interfere with their farming practices. When farmers lease a portion of their farmland for solar, they have the unique opportunity to integrate the generation of renewable energy with their regular farming practices. With careful planning and design, agrivoltaic systems, intertwined with traditional farming (whether regenerative or not), can become a key part of sustainable farming and earn farmers additional income while maintaining the integrity of their farming legacy.  

Leasing Land for Solar Farms 

Another hesitation for farmers to lease a portion of their land for solar is the fear that they will lose control over their land. However, by working with a reputable solar company, like OYA Renewables, farmers can ensure that they maintain control over their land and that their farming practices are respected.

Key Takeaways 

Agrivoltaics and regenerative farming are two innovative practices that have the potential to create a sustainable future for farmers and agriculture. With the increase in the popularity of agrivoltaic systems, we foresee a future where the majority of solar farms use this technology to foster a full-scale solar farming experience that benefits farmers, local communities, and the land. 

 By combining these practices, farmers can create a self-sustaining system that benefits both their bottom line and the planet. With careful planning and design, agrivoltaic systems can be integrated into existing farming practices, allowing farmers to continue their traditional practices while also benefiting from the additional revenue stream provided by solar energy. 

1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780323898669000122#! 
2 https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2023/03/13/agrivoltaics-market-valued-at-9-3-billion/ 
4 https://news.arizona.edu/story/agrivoltaics-proves-mutually-beneficial-across-food-water-energy-nexus

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