WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced the Protecting Future Farmland Act, new legislation to support farmers’ land stewardship efforts as many choose to deploy solar energy on their land. The legislation will ensure that federal investment in rural energy projects prioritizes both land stewardship and responsible deployment of renewable energy to protect America’s farmlands for future cultivation.
“While many farmers are choosing to expand clean, renewable energy – supporting energy independence and increasing revenues of their operation – we need to support our farmers’ land stewardship efforts and help them protect the farmland that is critical to the future of our rural economies and national food security,” said Senator Baldwin. “I am proud to partner with my Republican colleague to lead legislation that will give our farmers who want to expand solar operations the tools they need to continue responsibly managing our soil, water and nation’s heartland.”
“We must be certain that embracing solar doesn’t damage our most valuable commodity: our rich Iowa soil,” said Senator Grassley. “I’m proud to introduce this bill to help the Heartland continue to lead the way in pursuing ag innovation and renewable resource development in a responsible manner.”
As the demand for renewable energy grows to cut energy costs, reduce reliance on foreign oil, and combat climate change, agricultural landowners are increasingly interested in using their land for solar energy production. About 83% of new solar projects are installed on farmland and ranchland, with almost 50% placed on the most productive, versatile, and resilient land.
But despite the growing number of solar farms in rural America, there is no current coordinated federal strategy for land management below solar arrays. As such, many farmers, land owners, and those in rural communities are concerned about the quality of agricultural land after a solar lease ends, as well as the impact of energy installations on soil and water.
“Solar deployment can be an opportunity to strengthen farm viability and keep land in farming, but to do this right will require action,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director of American Farmland Trust. “We applaud Senator Baldwin and Senator Grassley’s Protecting our Future Farmland Act for introducing a bill with common sense, timely, and necessary policies that will empower USDA to advance a smarter solar buildout.”
“Wisconsin’s landscape presents opportunities for both agricultural and renewable energy projects. However, more work needs to be done before the integration of agriculture and renewable energy becomes a reality for many farmers. Wisconsin farmers need additional technical assistance and best practices must be developed to protect quality farmland while renewable energy sites are developed, operated and decommissioned. Farmers looking to diversify their revenue streams and generate renewable energy while keeping land in agriculture production can achieve both goals thanks to new legislation introduced by Senator Baldwin. This legislation will prioritize renewable energy projects that have soil, water and vegetation management and conservation plans in place. Wisconsin Farm Bureau supports the Protecting Future Farmland Act, which will increase research into the growing agrivoltraics field. WFBF appreciates the work of Sen. Baldwin recognizing the importance of continued renewable energy project development while keeping quality farmland in production,” said Kevin Krentz, President of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
“As progress in renewable energy continues, it is so important we understand how these new developments impact our valuable farmland, and continue to protect pollinator habitat, conservation plans, soil health, and our rural communities. WFU is thankful to Senator Baldwin for putting legislation forward that provides support for producers seeking or working with an Agrivoltaic system, and hope to see these systems support community solar energy generation,” said Darin Von Ruden, President of Wisconsin Farmers Union.
In light of more American landowners engaging in renewable energy production, while recognizing the need to preserve farmlands that are critical to our rural economies and our nation’s food security, the Protecting Future Farmland Act would:
- Prioritize federal assistance to those renewable energy projects (through existing Rural Energy for America Program) that have in place soil, water, and vegetation management and conservation plans.
- Collect data on conversion of farmland to solar energy and directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to deliver a report to Congress on report on the benefits and impacts of solar energy development on agricultural land.
- Authorize the National Resources Conservation Service to develop best practices for protection of soil health and productivity during the siting, construction, operation, and decommissioning of solar energy systems on agricultural land.
- Authorize the National Resources Conservation Service to provide technical assistance to farmers growing crops or managing grazing below or in tandem with solar energy systems.
- Define agrivoltaic systems and authorize USDA to conduct a study on agrivoltaic systems including compatibility and risk-benefit analyses. Agrivoltaics, the co-location of agricultural production (crop production, livestock grazing, and pollinator habitat) with solar energy infrastructure, has the potential to reduce land-use conflicts and provide additional benefits to farmers, rural communities, and the solar industry.
An online release is available here.