Making Solar Multipurpose on the Farm

Solar installations are popping up across the rural landscape of America. Many of these installations are utility scale installations being utilized to support the electrical grids in our country. This is valuable for all since it gives us greater national security and helps keep brownouts and blackouts to a minimum. Rural installations also provide passive income for the farmers who lease their land for such applications.

Many farmers are also installing solar for their own personal use on the farm. Some of the installations Green Alternatives has done include powering grain drying operations, providing energy for hog farms, and offsetting usage on cattle operations. Such systems provide great savings for the farmers and the return on their investment can be fairly quick if they receive grant monies and apply MACRS depreciation on the equipment. By implementing solar on the farm, they levelize their cost of energy for years to come.

The more creative farmers take this savings and expand it even more by making their installations multifunctional. The best example of such an application that we have been a part of is located on Sutton Heritage Farms in northern Indiana. Sutton Heritage Farms came into existence in 1862 and has been handed off from generation to generation since that time. Each generation left their own legacy while planning for the next generation’s needs.


Brian Sutton of Sutton Heritage Farms holds a very long-term perspective when considering the farm. He stated that he wanted the solar array infrastructure to still be in place 100 years from now when his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are running the farm. Therefore, the racking structure for the array is reinforced with concrete, providing a very solid structure. This also keeps his cattle from damaging the structure if they spend time utilizing it as a back scratcher.

Taking this perspective even further, Brian asked us if the array could serve other functions beyond providing power. He requested that the array be high enough that his cattle could find shade beneath it in the summer heat. He also suggested that the array could sit along one end of his pasture and aid in fencing off that boundary. The entire array is very forward thinking and extremely functional for his operation!

Other examples we have seen for agricultural arrays include the planting of crops beneath the array. This is great for those crops that cannot tolerate direct sun. For these crops, the shade of the array can help the plants grow more vigorously and help them produce longer into the growing season. Some farmers use the array areas for pollinator habitat near their crop fields. These pollinator habitats primarily consist of perennial plantings that will return year after year without much effort on the farmer’s part and the pollinators will stick around to help pollinate field crops for the farmer as well.

We are sure there are more great ideas out there for making solar multipurpose in agricultural settings. If you’d like to do some more reading on the topic, check out this article.

VP & Director of Sales at Green Alternatives, Inc.

Cindy started as a consultant with Green Alternatives in 2009 and has moved into her current position within the last few years. She loves meeting with potential clients, answering their questions, and ultimately designing a PV solar system that meets their needs and goals.