According to new guidance published last week by the National Farmers Union (NFU), the National Solar Centre (NSC) and the Solar Trade Association (STA), solar farms are helping develop a new generation of farms that produce both food and energy.
The document, Agricultural Good Practice Guidance for Solar Farms, is intended to demonstrate best practice for coupling solar farms with conventional agriculture. The rise of solar farm developments was described as a ‘lifeline’ to fellow farmers by Gilbert Churchill, whose farm added solar last year. He explained: “It’s environmentally friendly and it suits the farm industry very much because it gives a secure regular income. That’s very important to me and to other farmers as the industry is struggling at the moment to make ends meet. It’s a lifeline.”
Guy Smith, vice president of the NFU, explained why the construction of a solar farm does not mean that agricultural production has to stop. He said: “It is clear that renewable energy can support profitable farming, underpinning traditional agricultural production with additional returns that make businesses more resilient. This guidance document shows how solar farms can indeed be multifunctional, simultaneously meeting food and energy needs as well as enhancing biodiversity.
The guidance calculates that 95% of a solar farm site is still accessible to vegetation growth and agricultural use. The NFU notes that the solar farms do not require any reduction in stocking densities – having no effect on agricultural production.
Commenting on the new guidelines, Leonie Greene, of the STA said: “This explains how to do free-range, home-grown solar at its best – a secure solution to Britain’s energy crisis that generates clean energy side-by-side with food production. That roast lamb Sunday lunch has just got a lot sunnier.
The report notes that the farmers that graze livestock on solar farms, if contracted in the right way, could be eligible to claim the basic payment under the Common Agricultural Policy.