What Farmers Need To Know About Solar Grazing: Common FAQ

By: Jess Gray · March 8, 2024 · 11 min

How do I get started with solar grazing?

Start with research! Research solar farms in your area and their vegetation management needs. Assess your current flock and infrastructure to determine if adjustments are needed and learn about solar grazing best practices. Contact solar farm operators to discuss potential partnerships and what they require from a grazing service provider.

What are the financial benefits of integrating solar grazing into my farming operation?

Solar grazing can provide a steady income stream through grazing contracts and reduce feed costs using solar farmland. Your business may also qualify for agricultural tax benefits or renewable energy incentives.

What breeds of sheep are most effective for solar grazing, and why?

We like low-maintenance, docile breeds like Katahdin and Dorper because they efficiently graze around solar panels without causing damage. Hair sheep, compared to wool sheep, rub less on solar equipment. We selectively breed for faster-shedding sheep, so there aren’t problems with scratching or shedding on-site.

What infrastructure changes are necessary on my farm to accommodate solar panels and grazing sheep?

To ensure the safety and welfare of your sheep on solar farms, you may need to invest in portable handling systems, water systems, and suitable fencing. Access roads or paths should also be considered to move sheep in and out of solar grazing areas.

How do I negotiate contracts with solar farm operators?

Research standard rates and services for solar grazing. Approach negotiations with a clear understanding of your costs, including transport, labor, and animal care. Be prepared to discuss the benefits of your service and how it aligns with the solar farm’s operational goals. We strongly recommend multi-year contracts, but if you’re just starting, you may benefit from shorter-term, pilot-period contracts.

What training or resources are available for farmers new to solar grazing?

Gaining hands-on experience and training is invaluable when you’re getting started. We offer a two-year paid Agrivoltaics Mentorship Program to empower farmers with the knowledge, skills, and expertise to establish and run a self-sufficient solar grazing business. The American Solar Grazing Association also has helpful resources and supports a community of graziers.

How do I manage the health and welfare of my flock in the unique environment of a solar farm?

Implement regular health checks, provide adequate fresh water, and ensure a nutritious diet. We always provide our sheep with minerals and carefully evaluate the nutritional composition of the vegetation on-site. Sometimes, we’ll provide supplemental grain or hay, especially during winter. We also can’t overstate how important it is to be with your sheep. If you watch your sheep closely, you can pick up on signs of stress, discomfort, and illness. This is key to ensuring herd health, mitigating disease, and maintaining a productive solar grazing program.

Are there any regulatory considerations or permissions required to start solar grazing?

Check with local agricultural extensions, zoning boards, or environmental agencies to understand any regulations or permits required for grazing livestock on solar farms, including any impacts on agricultural property status or tax implications.

What are the environmental impacts of solar grazing, and how can I minimize any adverse effects?

Solar grazing generally has positive environmental impacts, such as reducing carbon footprints and enhancing soil health. However, you can minimize negative impacts by avoiding overgrazing, managing waste properly, and using practices that promote biodiversity.

How can I ensure the long-term sustainability of my solar grazing operation?

Diversify your income sources, maintain healthy and productive sheep, build strong relationships with multiple solar farm operators, and stay informed about industry trends and best practices to adapt your operation as needed.

I’m a farmer with land considering leasing to a solar company. How do I assess if my land is suitable for solar grazing?

Evaluate the terrain, sunlight exposure, and proximity to solar installations and the power grid infrastructure. Energy companies prefer land close to larger power lines or transfer stations, allowing them to tie into the grid more cost-effectively. Ideal lands are those with gentle slopes, good sunlight, and are within a manageable distance from solar sites to reduce transportation stress on the sheep.

Can I start solar grazing if I currently don’t own sheep?

Yes! However, you must consider the initial investment in purchasing sheep and infrastructure for their care. In our experience, getting your sheep from your region is critical, so they are already adapted to your climate. If you’re in Virginia, for example, buying your sheep from Texas is not a good idea, as they will struggle to adapt, and you’re likely to deal with great amounts of loss. We recommend consulting with a large animal veterinarian to ensure your flock is healthy and scale your numbers naturally with annual lambings. This will give you time to grow your solar grazing business sustainably. If you have more questions about starting solar grazing, please reach out to us and the American Solar Grazing Association. There are important distinctions between managing a flock of sheep at home versus managing sheep on a solar site, and we can help you navigate those nuances.

What are the initial costs and expected ROI for starting a solar grazing operation?

Initial costs include sheep, fencing, water systems, preventative herd health checks, transportation, and feed supplements. ROI depends on the size of your operation, contract terms with solar companies, and operational efficiencies. Solar grazing can offer a stable income and reduced feed costs, contributing to a positive ROI within a few years.

What training or adjustments are required for sheep to adapt to solar farms?

Sheep typically adapt well to solar farms with minimal training. However, it’s crucial to gradually acclimate them to the solar panels and infrastructure, ensuring they’re comfortable grazing around these structures.

How do I find solar companies interested in grazing services?

Start by contacting local solar farms or renewable energy associations. Networking at agricultural or renewable energy events can connect you with interested companies.

What legal or insurance considerations should I be aware of?

You’ll need liability insurance to cover potential damages to solar panels or injuries to your flock. Contracts should clearly outline responsibilities, insurance requirements, and liability for damages.

How do solar grazing contracts typically work?

Contracts may be based on the area covered, the number of sheep grazing, or a flat service fee. They should specify the duration of grazing, payment terms, and any performance expectations or requirements.

How can I ensure my flock’s security on a solar farm?

Adequate fencing, regular checks, and employing guardian animals or security measures are key to protecting your flock from predators and ensuring they do not wander off the designated grazing area.

What happens during the off-grazing season?

What off-season? If the site is managed appropriately, your sheep should be able to remain on-site year-round. Within one generation, your sheep will adapt to meet site conditions. It is healthier for them to stay on-site and reduces stress on the animals due to transportation. Keeping our flocks on a single site also helps reduce our carbon footprint.

What steps should I take to ensure my grazing practices are sustainable and beneficial to the solar farm environment?

Implement rotational grazing to prevent overgrazing, monitor soil health, and work closely with solar companies to align grazing practices with environmental goals.

How do I balance the nutritional needs of my sheep with the available vegetation on solar farms?

Conduct vegetation assessments to ensure there is a variety of grasses and plants to meet nutritional needs. Depending on vegetation quality and availability, supplemental feeding might be necessary. Always consult your veterinarian to ensure your flock has adequate nutrition. Hands-on work with your sheep is the best way to ensure they get the nutrients they need. We regularly assess our animals’ body scores and FAMACHA scores in person.

How do I monitor and manage the health of my flock remotely if the solar farm is not easily accessible?

We monitor our flock’s location and well-being with GPS collars and, when permitted by our clients, remote cameras. While drone technology would be helpful for visualizing your flock quickly, many sites in Virginia don’t permit drone use due to its tie-in to the grid and safety concerns. But remember: technology is just a tool. Regular shepherd visits are essential to perform manual health checks, watch your animals’ behaviors, and assess your welfare.

How do I ensure compliance with local agriculture and renewable energy regulations when starting solar grazing?

Consult with local agricultural extension services and renewable energy agencies to understand zoning laws, grazing permits, and specific regulations related to livestock on solar farms.

What contingencies should be in place for emergencies, such as severe weather or health outbreaks in the flock?

Develop an emergency plan that includes evacuation procedures, emergency veterinary services, and sheltering options. Ensure that the solar farm operators agree to this plan.

Local farmer holding lambs. Gray's LAMBscaping flock of sheep beside a solar farm

About Jess

Jess Gray is the CEO of Gray’s LAMBscaping, LLC, overseeing the company’s financial management, policy development, logistics, and reporting. As a 2023 Nuffield International Agricultural Scholar, Gray has represented her company in over half a dozen countries, focusing her research on integrating solar energy with livestock grazing.