solar grazingSolar energy facilities are expanding across the United States and other countries. They are helping to create the crucial energy the world needs, in a way that is sustainable and does not harm the environment. Naturally, these large solar farms have considerable maintenance requirements, and these do not involve the upkeep of the technology alone. The land on which they are installed also needs to be maintained and this has led to the rise of the practice of solar grazing. International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) is an enthusiastic supporter of this practice, since it is sustainable and also benefits the sheep and wool industries.

What is Solar Grazing?

According to Nick Armentrout, President of the American Solar Grazing Association, solar grazing is a new manifestation of a practice that goes back many years, i.e. targeted or prescribed grazing. This is the practice of directing the natural grazing habits of ruminants such as sheep towards specific environmental impacts. With solar grazing, this well-established practice is directed in the specific area of renewable energy.

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The Benefits of Solar Grazing

Armentrout further explains that solar grazing has benefits for both the energy and sheep farming industries. Large solar energy facilities are laid out in what are referred to as “solar orchards,” with hundreds of panels installed on sizeable plots of land. Vegetation, such as different types of grasses, is planted on the orchard floors because it provides the best way of preventing stormwater runoff and corrosion from polluting the local water supply. However, that vegetation then needs to be controlled. This can be done with machinery such as lawnmowers, but this is not the most effective solution. Mowers often cannot reach under the panels, and have the potential to damage the expensive machinery.

Solar grazing is an elegant and effective alternative. Flocks of sheep can be deployed into the solar facilities and allowed to graze. They can move freely around and underneath the panels, they don’t damage any equipment, and their natural movements and activities also improve the quality of the soil. For their part, sheep farmers can use solar grazing as a way to sustain their flocks and draw additional income, which is increasingly important as the American wool and sheep industries are currently struggling.

Investors, farmers and solar facility owners are all becoming more aware of the advantages of solar grazing. The American Solar Grazing Association estimates that around 80,000 sheep now graze roughly 100,000 acres across 500 solar panel sites in 27 states. This number indicates a tenfold increase in just two years.

The American Solar Grazing Association – currently 50,000 members strong – is focused on facilitating connections between sheep farmers and solar developers in the United States. It was founded by a small group of forward-thinking sheep farmers in the mid 2000s. They saw the opportunity to deploy sheep in the few fenced solar projects that existed at the time, and they were perceptive enough to realise that the solar energy industry would grow, providing ample opportunities for them in the future.

Nick Armentrout was a guest speaker at the IWTO Round Table in Montréal, Canada last year, and will appear again at the 2024 Round Table, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey in November this year.

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