Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

The Way of the Future for Regenerative Agriculture?

by CRARS staff member Sheryl Karas. M.A.

sheep and solar panels

Could regenerative energy production be part of the future for regenerative agriculture? CRARS mentor-farmer Will Harris, of White Oak Pastures(opens in new window) in Bluffton, Georgia, thinks so. He’s already doing it!

In January 2020 Harris announced that he had entered into a partnership with Silicon Ranch Corporation(opens in new window) to bring regenerative land management to almost 2,400 solar power-producing farm acres in Southwest Georgia. The vegetation under solar arrays needs to be kept from growing large enough to cast shade on the solar panels. The normal choices might include keeping the land bare through tillage or using herbicide, both of which have significant negative impacts on the ecosystem. They could also mow the vegetation, which is less harmful; but it diminishes biodiversity, does not feed the soil biology, and requires the use of equipment run by fossil fuels to be efficient.

That’s where regenerative agriculture comes in. In April 2020, White Oak Pastures released their first herd of sheep into a large field of solar arrays to graze the cover crop vegetation they had no-till seeded into the land before construction. The sheep are holistically managed which means they are moved through the field in a way that keeps the animals from overgrazing any one area. Instead they assist in improving soil health with their manure and the action of their hooves while keeping the vegetation short enough underneath and around the arrays. The plants themselves draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, and the soil biology, fed by the sheep’s manure, converts that carbon to a stable form that will accrue underground, safely sequestered.

The project appears to be a success! Today Will Harris teaches other people how to provide regenerative solar farm grazing services through 3-day workshops where participants can tour the solar farms and learn how sensitive solar equipment is kept safe from the grazing animals. They also learn how to deliver, load, and handle the animals on site, work with watering needs, grazing goals, and other grazing decisions, as well as the details of arranging contracts and working most effectively with the solar suppliers. Additionally, there are topics covered of use to the solar suppliers themselves such as the most effective types of seeding and equipment to use in conjunction with ecologically sound land management, use of space between panels, etc.

According to Silicon Ranch, solar power plants are projected to occupy over six million acres of land globally by 2030. Making sure that these companies are responsible neighbors who properly steward the land these solar arrays will sit on will be essential for local communities. Regenerative grazing provides a unique opportunity for ranchers to increase their cash flow while assisting solar companies with community relations and land management responsibilities.

The next Solar Grazing Workshop(opens in new window) at White Oak Pastures is August 14-16, 2023 in Bluffton, Georgia. 

Learn more about Will Harris and his successful negative carbon footprint regenerative ranch on the mentor-farmer page for White Oak Pastures on our site(opens in new window).

Photos on this page were provided courtesy of Will Harris.

Will Harris and solar panels