CARVER, Mass. (AP) – The fall in cranberry prices and the country's ongoing trade wars have caused America's cranberry industry to have a possible new savior: solar energy.
Some cranberry farmers in Massachusetts, the country's second largest producer after Wisconsin, are proposing to build solar panels on the swamps they collect every autumn.
According to solar and agro-industry experts, it is a new approach to blending renewable energy technology with traditional farming that has been researched around the world but has never been tried before in large scale commercial crops. The basic idea is to build solar panels in clusters that are high enough from the ground and more spaced from the ground, so that plants can be safely grown and brought under.
Cranberry farmers, together with solar producers, are hoping to shoulder the weak times for their industries, while producing extra-quality fruits for their generations, providing extra income in the form of long-term land leases. An ongoing and nationwide survey shows that especially climates can develop under solar panels, but at this point it is unclear how cranberries are processed.
Michael Wainio, a fourth-generation blueberry farmer, said he sold a portion of his land, started a side-plant harvest for other producers, and in recent years started a farm stand, delicatessen and bakery business to come together.
Uz We're doing everything we can to diversify, and that's not enough, ”he said. "If we don't get this, I'd be surprised if we did five years."
Wainio is working with developer NextSun Energy on a project that requires about 27,000 solar panels on approximately 60 acres (24 hectares) of active swamps on three farms at Carver, near Cape Cod. According to NextSun, the project will produce about 10 megawatts of energy or produce enough to run more than 1,600 homes.
Brian Wick, director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, has been working with the cranberry industry for years, with surplus product and the demand for slimming for one of the key products.
According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, the price of cranberries has fallen from $ 58 a barrel (about 100 pounds) to $ 25 a barrel (about 100 pounds) in 2008, 57% over the past decade. But Wick says that the cost of producing red pie fruits in Massachusetts is about $ 35.
The USDA allowed the industry to pour millions of pounds of fruit to balance prices in 2017 and 2018, but I said the country's ongoing trade disputes with Europe and China are further boosting struggles for a sector that has previously exported 30% of its products.
Neyi What we love about these new solar projects is that they have farm farm mindset first, ”he said. “This is an opportunity to continue the industry. It's not about replacing farms with the sun. ”
In Massachusetts, cranberry growers and solar partners are hoping to benefit from a unique new renewable energy incentive to stimulate these “dual-use tarım solar and agricultural projects, as the state has indicated.
To qualify, arrays must meet specific design requirements, such as building at least eight meters off the ground. Projects should also submit an annual report showing that the land beneath the panels remains agriculturally fertile.
An offer has already received state approval; Four others, including Wainio & # 39; s; Government and cranberry industry officials, and others, are standing in front of local authorities or are in an early stage of development.
Dual-use projects proved to be successful on livestock farms in Europe and the US, and hundreds of projects were carried out on product farms in Japan – the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, although much smaller than recommended for Massachusetts cranberry bogs. He coordinates a national work on “agrivoltaic,, sometimes referred to.
He said that the impact on crop cultivation in different environments is still under investigation.
In a study published in the journal Nature Sustainability in September, researchers at the University of Arizona found that cherry tomatoes grown under solar panels in hot desert landscapes produce higher yields and require less water.
However, ongoing trials in a related field run by the University of Massachusetts have found that broccoli, cabbage and pepper are less productive under solar panels in a more temperate New England climate.
Other Massachusetts University researchers are also beginning to assess the potential impact on cranberries. This summer they built large wooden structures in one of Wainio's swamps to mimic the shadow of the solar panel array.
Numerous fruits could be seen growing under the structures during recent visits, but researchers said they should evaluate the quality and yield when harvested.
A UMass cranberry expert Giverson Mupambi, who participated in the effort, said color is an important factor to examine. Fruits need to obtain a bright red shade in order to be sold, and sunlight is often needed to achieve this color.
Meanwhile, property owners living near one of the proposed projects have formed an opposition group and argue that the government should proceed cautiously because the long-term environmental impact of such large-scale projects is still unknown.
These concerns and others encouraged the government to propose to reduce the size of allowed projects, among other new conditions, under the new incentive. Solar developers say the proposed measures will make many projects financially impossible.
And at least one major player in the cranberry industry is still lukewarm about the new approach to solar energy.
His spokesman, Linda Burke, said that Makepeace, the world's largest dogwood grower and one of Massachusetts's largest landowners, is not currently willing to take advantage of the new state incentive.
The company has seven solar strings on a total area of 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares), but these systems were built on a land that was not used for cranberries years ago.
Kili We think that dual use may be more appropriate for other types of agriculture, Bur Burke said. Sen If you think about cranberry marsh, there's a way out and there's a reason. He needs the sun. ”
Follow Philip Marcelo at Twitter.com/philmarcelo.