Evidence in Official Records shows Solar protects farmland

Tobacco and Dairy

On page 15 of the 2016 Maysville Mason County JPC Comprehensive plan states “Agriculture is currently going through a difficult period of transition. The mainstay of the farm economy was tobacco, the local production of which has virtually been abolished in the past decade. Mason County’s farm economy can be described as diversified or as general farming, with a good mix of crops and livestock… “.

Dairy income declined at the same time. In the 1960s Mason County had over 300 dairy farms while there are less than 5 in operation today.

Cash Grain Damage topsoil and watershed

The Union of Concerned Scientists state:

Groundwater: Nitrogen and pesticides applied to farm fields get into streams and the shallow groundwater that many rural households rely on for drinking water. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found elevated levels of nitrate and pesticides in the shallow groundwater of more than half of America’s rural watersheds (Dubrovsky et al. 2009; Sullivan et al. 2009). In more than 20 percent of these watersheds, the groundwater was unsafe to drink according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards due to high levels of nitrate (EPA 2008)—a potential risk factor for cancer, reproductive problems, and methemoglobinemia or “blue-baby syndrome,” which interferes with oxygen transport in the blood of infants (Townsend et al. 2003).

Streams and lakes. The EPA found high levels of phosphorus contamination in 31 percent of the nation’s streams and high levels of nitrogen contamination in 32 percent of streams; agriculture is the largest source of this pollution by far (EPA 2008). Thirteen percent of these streams were unsafe for drinking due to nitrate. Reducing nitrate concentrations to safe levels requires treatments that are expensive and consume a great deal of energy (Twomey, Stillwell, and Webber 2010). Furthermore, the USGS found that all streams in agricultural watersheds contain some pesticides, and 57 percent had at least one pesticide present at a level the EPA deems unhealthy for aquatic life (EPA 2008). Nitrogen and phosphorus escaping from farms are also a threat to lakes because elevated levels stimulate the growth of algae (through a process called eutrophication) and, on occasion, toxin-producing microorganisms. The result is slimy green water, altered aquatic vegetation, loss of fish habitat, and fish kills (Hudnell 2008). Corn farming is responsible for much of this pollution in the Mississippi River Basin: it is the dominant source of nitrogen pollution and the second-largest source of phosphorus pollution after animal manure on pasture and rangelands (Figure 7) (Alexander et al. 2008). Algae blooms also decrease the beauty and usability of lakes. A recent study found that the cost of eutrophication in lakes and rivers exceeds $2 billion a year; while many of the costs are hard to measure precisely, the most significant are associated with reduced property values along lakefronts and lost recreational use (Dodds et al. 2009).”

The Yale Environment 360 (Feb 18 2021) stated “One-Third of Farmland in the U.S. Corn Belt Has Lost Its Topsoil”. If you doubt the level of top soil erosion, consider the frequency that the city has to dredge Limestone Creek behind the library, Washington

Aaron Price, University of Nebraska states: “Corn is a heavy nitrogen user; soybeans naturally replenish nitrogen in the soil, which is a major reason why farmers plant soybeans one year and corn the next in rotation on the same field. Planting corn every year can threaten water quality due to the application of additional nitrogen fertilizer. Surface-water runoff can readily collect and move chemicals and soil into rivers, lakes and streams, creating problems for recreation, wildlife and public water supplies. Leaching, or the infiltration of chemicals into the soil, can carry chemicals into the groundwater — a primary source of drinking water. “Recreation Park’s Lake, or simply look at the color of the Ohio River after a rain.”

In an attempt to reduce soil erosion no till corn and soybenas use “roundup Ready” seeds. Roundup is a widely-used herbicide that was developed by agrochemical giant Monsanto in the early 1970s. While popular in the agricultural community due to its ability to kill weeds without harming crops, Roundup and other glyphosate-based products are also used on residential lawns, school campuses, and public parks in many countries around the world.

Following a statement released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labeling glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015, the health risks and environmental impacts of Roundup have been called into question. Roundup not only has the potential to jeopardize human health, but it also poses a risk to livestock, wildlife and ecosystems in the areas surrounding where the weed killer is sprayed.  See appendix for more on glyphosate.

In summary every acre that is in sod under solar versus cash grain will reduce soil erosion and reduce ag chemicals entering local watersheds.

Cow-Calf grazing in wet weather damages topsoil and watershed

Penn State extension says, “Grazing cattle during periods of wet weather can damage pasture stands and soil structure.”

Cattle on pasture late winter

Simon Eldridge Soil Scientist NSW Agricluture Richmond state “Soil structure refers to how the soil particles are arranged into individual aggregates (lumps), and to the spaces and pores (holes) that exist within and between these aggregates. Well-structured soils have many pores and spaces in the soil to allow good drainage and easy plant root growth. Organic matter is essential for good soil structure as it helps to bind the soil particles together to form aggregates.

Soil pugging is a major management problem associated with dairy and beef cattle farming. It is caused by cattle grazing paddocks when the soil is too wet. The cattle hooves can sink up to 15 cm into the mud, causing pugging or compaction in the soil below. This significantly reduces pasture growth because the dense compacted soil layer restricts the movement of water, air and roots through the soil. The soil structure has in fact been destroyed in the compacted layer. “

My Walnut Grove Farm, is similar to much of Mason County, isn’t flat like Corn Belt farms. Rather USDA lists it as is a mix of soil classes 201.7 acres of class II (2 – 5 % Slope), 280.1 acres of class III (6 – 12 % slope), and 197.7 acres of class IV 12 – 20 % slope). With high-profit Tobacco, we could focus on the Class II land. The narrow, erratic margins of corn/soybeans push farmers to plant increasing acreage, using no-till conservation practices, on all possible acres. All the while, continuous cash grain rotations reduce the topsoil’s organic matter plus accelerate soil erosion. Chemicals applied to row crop fields can contaminate groundwater.

Solar will allow us to establish sod under the solar array. This sod will stop the topsoil loss that is occurring every cash-grain crop year.

Erosion after no-till row crops

Sod under the solar collectors will retain topsoil and help restore its organic matter. while providing havens for bees and other pollinators

Utility-scale solar will preserve Mason County farmland for the future by stopping the soil erosion and chemical pollution of cash-grain rotations.

Solar Allows Land to Recover

Soil can be improved by planting native grasses/pollinators and effectively letting the soil rest. In the future, when a solar project is decommissioned, farming can once again resume on that land. This is a stark contrast to other development, which often leaves land unusable for agriculture.5,6 After the panels are installed, native vegetation— often friendly to bees and other pollinators—is planted. The deep roots of the planted native vegetation retain more water than turf grass and gravel during heavy storms and periods of drought. They also help retain topsoil and improve soil health over time.

Lauren Bowen of the Southern Environmental Law Center says “For sustainable grounds keeping, (solar) developers should select and plant native species. Benefits of native shrubs and groundcovers, such as grasses and wildflowers, include improved erosion control, pesticide avoidance, stormwater infiltration, wildlife habitat, and reduced overall maintenance. In addition, native fruiting and flowering plants provide a food source and habitat for wild native bees. Native bees make a considerable contribution to agricultural crops through pollination. Promoting habitat for native bees and other pollinators can have a positive ecological impact on disturbed sites, as well as, a positive economic impact on neighboring insect pollinated crops.”

While not allowed into the official record here are other resources