Farmers Look At Solar Panels As A Hedge Against Crop Prices And Trade Uncertainty | St. Louis Public Radio

Farmers Look At Solar Panels As A Hedge Against Crop Prices And Trade Uncertainty

Nov 17, 2019

Low crop prices and an ongoing trade war limiting exports are adding to the financial struggles of farming. 

Across the nation, and in Missouri, an increasing number of farmers are looking to solar energy as a way to shore up the bottom line.

“It’s purely an economic decision for farmers,” said Andy Popp, manager of energy efficiency with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 

“They want to utilize a piece of property that is underutilized or looking for an income-upon-retirement kind of thing for their farm and considering installing solar panels,” Popp said.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports the number of farm acres dedicated to solar power grew nearly five times over in five years, going from 53,000 acres in 2013 to more than 250,000 in 2018. In Missouri, the Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, has seen an increase in applications for grants to install solar panels.

“For fiscal year '19, we received just under 100 applications in the REAP program for grant requests. The prior two or three years, I’d say we had anywhere from 50 to 60 applications,” said Nathan Tutt, with the USDA office in Missouri.

The trend will likely continue, he said, as the cost to install solar panels has dropped significantly.

“Four or five years ago, it cost $4 or $5 per kilowatt hour of production to install solar panels,” Tutt said. “Now you can see prices coming in at $2 a kilowatt.”

Tutt said most farmers are using solar panels to power their homes and farms and are not yet selling power back to utility companies. But that could change if crop prices stay low and energy costs and incentives to go green increase.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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