Land Crunch: Solar Farms Begin to Gobble Up America's Midwest

May 2, 2024

The solar market's efforts to lease land in the US Midwest for massive solar-panel farms is causing debate among agricultural experts. Some complain about the ruin of vast acres of farmland. They're concerned about adverse effects on ecosystems, too.

Farmers and other landowners are seeing dollar signs. They're leasing their land to solar firms for rates of $900 to $1,500 an acre per year. And it comes with routine rate increases, a Reuters analysis found. That’s far above the $251 per acre that soybean and corn field leases commonly went for in 2023, Reuters said.

One real estate firm that works with solar firms has leased 9,000 acres in states like Indiana. Much of that ground is farmland. It's then turned into barren fields lined with huge solar panels.

Agricultural economists and other experts worry about losing so much farmland. They fear it'll cut deeply into crop yields. Solar farm conversion also involves clearing and grading huge swaths of land. This can lead to soil erosion and sediment runoff. Water sources for other crops and farmland can be poisoned.

All of this comes as more farmland is being destroyed for urban sprawl. This happens as residential and commercial development moves farther outward from urban centers. In 2023, there were 76.2 million fewer farm acres than in 1997, federal data shows. That's nearly 8% less.

Jerry Hatfield is a former director at the US Department of Agriculture. Hatfield told Reuters that the issue isn't the number of acres used for solar farms. He said the issue is the poor land that results. He said this could impact local and state economies. He said it could also hamper the country's future power to produce crops.

Reflect: Creating solar farms and planting crops both benefit the environment, but in different ways. How might we strike a balance between the two approaches?

Photo of solar farm from Reuters.

Which of the following is the argument presented in this article? (Common Core RI.5.8; RI.6.8)
a. Solar farms can make a lot of money for landowners.
b. Solar farms should replace all forms of traditional farming.
c. Solar farms have negative effects on local ecosystems and agricultural productivity.
d. Farmers are entirely against the use of solar farms.
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