Large-Scale Solar Protects Farmland
Kentucky Agricultural Statistics 2018 Annual Bulletin (page 7) estimates Mason County’s annual cash rent for cropland was $88 / acre, while pasture was $25/ acre.
Mason County’s average property tax on an agricultural acre is $8.56. So after property taxes ($25 – $8.56) the landowner only has $16.44/acre for maintenance, insurance, and debt service before any hope of profit. Cattlemen are hard-pressed to pay more due to frequent dramatic swings in cattle and feed prices, along with livestock mortality. Cattle’s waste can infiltrate our groundwater unless carefully managed. Livestock on wet sod eventually leads to soil erosion. All this makes cow-calf a land use with significant environmental risk but little ability to provide economic support to the local economy.
Walnut Grove Farm, 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.
Large-scale solar will preserve Mason County farmland for the future by stopping the soil erosion and chemical pollution of cash-grain rotations. They can also provide a substantial revenue stream to support land ownership and help support community services. It is fairly normal for 100 acres in a solar farm to contribute $24,000 yearly to community taxing authorities. It is important to remember that solar farms do not require natural gas, city water, landfill capacity, rail, river, or extensive roads. Large-Scale Solar should be a “conditional use” in all agricultural zones.