American Farmers are the backbone of our country. In 1870 farming made up 70% of the workforce. Today farming only makes up 1.3%
Agriculture is in the very DNA of our nation. Every American child hears about how the Native Americans taught the first settlers in the Plymouth colony how to plant maize. Over 90% of colonists were farmers.
If American agriculture was its own country it would be the 16th largest economy in the world. Agriculture supplied $1.109 trillion to the GDP in 2019. So why are our farmers struggling?
Farming has always been a risky business.
Production risks include weather, variable growth processes in both livestock and crops, pests, disease, and other factors that can affect the commodity quantity and quality.
The variability of market price both for purchasing and selling is another risk.
Financial risk, most farmers rely on credit to make it through one season to the next.
Personal risk, farms don’t work themselves. If a farmer gets sick, goes through a divorce, or dies these are all situations that can be devastating for business.
Institutional risk, the farmer is betting against the government. Crippling and ever-changing government regulations cause added expense, stress, and difficulty to a naturally hostile situation.
And then came COVID. COVID has devastating to the farming community.
Just read this little excerpt from an article posted by Farmaid.org.
Consumers pay more, while farmers get a smaller piece of the pie: Food prices at grocery stores are up 5.6% from a year ago, the largest increase in nearly a decade, while farmgate prices have dropped by 4.8%. In some cases, the contrast is severe: beef prices are 25% higher than a year ago, even while livestock prices for farmers fell by 17%. Price fixing by a handful of major meatpackers may be driving this problem. Today, farmers receive an average of 14.6 cents for every dollar consumers spend on food.
Dairy farms on the edge: Dairy farmers have been rocked by low prices over the last several years, and 2020 set them on a rollercoaster. In January, Class I milk prices were at $19.01 per hundredweight (cwt), hovering several dollars below the cost of production for most dairy farmers. By June 2020, prices plummeted by 40% to $11.42/cwt, an untenable level that shuttered hundreds of dairies for good. Today, while milk prices are back up, they are still far below the cost of production, causing dairy farmers to lose money every time they milk their cows. In dairy-dependent states that have lost thousands of local dairies over the last few years, many worry that this fall will bring a wave of foreclosures that permanently alters their rural communities.
Local farmers left out: Despite rising demand for local food during the pandemic, the closure of farmers’ markets, schools, and other critical outlets had dramatic impacts not only on local farmers’ income but on their costs. One economic analysis estimated a decline of up to $688.7 million in sales across key local and regional markets from March to May 2020, leading to up to $1.32 billion in total loss to the economy from March to May 2020. This particularly harms smaller, socially disadvantaged, and beginning farms and the markets they serve. Unfortunately, federal relief programs have tended to leave out these growers, delivering the lion’s share of support to the very largest farms.
Bad news for beef and hog producers: By late August, at least 772 meatpacking and food processing plants reported cases of COVID-19, with at least 56,510 workers testing positive and hundreds dying from the illness. Several reports indicate meatpacking workers were forced to work without adequate protection, while major meatpacking companies received federal relief money from the CARES Act. Due to forced closures, beef and pork processing plants slowed by 25% and 40%, respectively, plummeting prices and leaving farmers stuck with animals they could not process. Hog farmers are forecast to lose $5 billion in 2020, equating to a loss of $37 per head, while the beef industry anticipates $13.6 billion in economic damage, with ranchers losing well over $100 per head.https://www.farmaid.org/blog/fact-sheet/understanding-economic-crisis-family-farms-are-facing/>
So What’s The Solution?
How can we help American farmers go from barely surviving to thriving?
Solar could be the answer.
Before you roll your eyes and close your browser, hear me out.
A penny saved is a penny earned and farmers need every penny they can find to counteract the variables they can’t control.
Do you know what farmers can take control of? Their electric bill. Electricity is a huge expense for farms. Everyone knows that lower expense equals higher profit margins.
Solar panels can be placed on just about any structure. Chicken houses are a perfect location for solar panels. Electrical usage for chicken farms can range from 20 to 83 kWh/1000lb. That’s a massive amount of electricity with massive solar saving potential.
Solar is a great option for a greenhouse, especially if you have a hydroponic system.
The solar on your greenhouse would easily power your hydroponic system with electricity to spare.
Agrivoltaics is co-developing the same area of land for both solar photovoltaic power as well as for agriculture
The advantages of agrivoltaics in crop planting are a win-win for both crop yield and solar performance. Panels can be placed to give crops optimal sun exposer while also protecting them from the heat and wind. Meanwhile, studies have shown that panels placed above crops yield 10% more electricity
Solar panels can provide great shade structures for livestock without infringing on their grazing space.
The largest benefit to agrivoltaics is that you can maintain the integrity of your farm, eliminate your electric bill and provide an added income that has way fewer variables than crops and livestock.
The average profit per acre of solar is between$21,250 and $42,500. according to Landmark Dividend.
That can make a big difference to the lives of a lot of American farmers and their families.
Funding these projects can seem impossible and daunting, but interest rates and the cost of solar panels are unprecedentedly low.
The REAP GRANT or Rural Energy for America Program is specifically for farmers and rural small businesses to be able to implement renewable energy systems or improving overall energy efficiency.
Another incentive is the federal Investment Tax credit or the ITC. For 2021 you’ll get a tax credit for 26% of your system’s cost.
Some states also have programs and tax incentives for investing in renewable energy.
Solar may not be the only solution in saving American farms, but it definitely is a viable solution.
Solar has the ability to not only save farmers in electrical cost, but it can actually improve crop yields and has the potential to vastly improve farm profitability.