SENECA FALLS — Residential and commercial development pressures are intensifying for farmers across the country. According to studies by the American Farmland Trust, each year, 1.5 million acres of the country’s farmland is parceled off and sold to developers.
While New York’s Farmland Protection Program has preserved over 75,000 acres of the state’s countryside, many New York farmers are looking for ways to cut operating costs to make their farms economically efficient for long-term sustainability.
Rodman Lott, part-owner of the Rodman Lott & Son Farm, a 3,000-acre arm in New York’s Finger Lakes region, began looking for these opportunities. Nestled between the Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, his farm grows no-till corn and soybeans crops. Since 1988, the farm has hosted Empire Farm Days, the largest outdoor agricultural trade show in the Northeastern U.S.
“Anything we can do to limit reoccurring expenses gives us a competitive advantage,” Lott said.
And one popular way to limit expenses is with energy alternatives.
Electricity is expensive in New York. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average per-kilowatt-hour rate across all sectors is higher than 80% of the country.
Electric costs can add up quickly for farmers. “We have a 400,000-bushel drying and storage facility which consumes 80% of our electricity usage during two months of the fall harvest.”
To help offset this expense, Lott started looking into a renewable energy solution for his farm. “A few years ago we were very close to buying a wind turbine but the deal fell through,” he said.
Then, in 2018, Lott explored another solution — solar energy. Working with Geneva-based Paradise Energy Solutions, he installed a 72.8 kW solar system on the farm. Each year, the 224 panels mounted on a small plot of land produce around 87,000 kWh — enough to cover 97% of the farm’s electricity usage.
When comparing his solar energy system to the wind turbine, Lott is content with the decision.
“I now think solar is a better option due to the lack of moving parts, making it less maintenance. Also, the ability to size the system to exact electricity needs is an advantage.”
Because solar energy requires little upkeep, the Rodman Lott & Sons Farm is able to use the electricity savings to quickly pay off the initial cost of the system.
“Our solar system has a faster payback than most of the equipment on our farm and has nearly no upkeep. That makes it a great investment.”
And while solar panels can require a sizable upfront investment, cost-saving incentives make this much easier. With the federal solar investment tax credit, tax savings on depreciation, and a grant from NYSERDA, Lott installed the system for 17% of the cost.
In addition to the economic savings, the solar system at Rodman Lott & Son Farms has a measurable, positive impact on the environment. Each year, the system prevents 67.7 tons of CO2 from being released into the air and saves 1,575 trees.
“Sunlight is a free commodity of infinite supply. That makes solar far superior to traditional electricity sources.”