By Brooke Nally
The agriculture industry has been harvesting the power of the sun for hundreds of years. But could new improvements to solar technology change farming and ranching as we know it?
Solar power is leading the way into the 21st century, saving farmers money, boosting small operations and reducing carbon footprints. Here’s a closer look at solar applications in today's farming practices, as well as the benefits — and potential challenges — that solar sustainability may bring about in the future.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that solar panels are best used on the farm for energy sources that don’t require a lot of electricity. But the number of U.S. agriculture businesses that rely on solar steadily increased over the last few years. These are just a few ways that farmers and ranchers are integrating solar power with their daily operations:
The smart solar push has resulted in some very exciting developments. In Australia, for instance, engineers have developed a solar-powered robot that identifies and zaps weeds in a field. Other in-development robots can travel between rows of plants to apply fertilizer or pick fruits and vegetables.
Solar power isn’t automating just the basic needs at farms and ranches, either. In the long run, solar is a cost-effective investment for the agriculture industry, saving farmers and ranchers the cost of additional physical labor. Given the agriculture industry’s recent labor shortages, smart solar mechanization may be the perfect solution.
One developing consumer device is the GrowBot, a garden robot invented to take the cost, land and learning curve out of organic eating. A coffee table-sized garden controlled by solar power manages itself, from fertilizing to watering based on individual plant needs. Prototypes start at $500, but that cost could drop in price as the manufacturing of GrowBot is commercialized for residential use.
As smart solar technology become more accessible for residential use — and consumers eagerly embrace all things eco-conscious — the future of industrial agriculture is uncertain. If individual gardening devices become popular and people start using them to grow their own food instead of relying on farmers, the agriculture industry may need to work a little harder to stay relevant.
Whether consumer-based solar gardening gadgets take off or not, though, there’s no doubt that the agriculture of the future will look significantly different than it does today. The world’s population is growing, meaning there are more people to feed and fewer viable locations to farm. A growing portion of the public is advocating for food to be grown without chemical pesticides, and governments worldwide are pushing for farms to decrease their carbon footprints. Logistically, an agriculture industry sustained by solar and other sources of renewable energy seems to be the best and brightest option out there.
Image credit: Flickr/Ingmar Zahorsky
Based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, Brooke is the content coordinator for SolarPowerAuthority. She is a solar expert with a love for all things eco, including smart green design, hydroponic grow systems, green business initiatives, and sustainable living off the grid. You can contact her via Twitter; @brookenally.