Arkansas’ agricultural industry is no stranger to economic ups and downs. With each planting and breeding season, farmers and ranchers must consider how unpredictable weather patterns, international trade tensions and rising energy costs will affect their productivity and bottom lines.
Despite this persistent financial uncertainty, our state’s agricultural producers are committed to feeding the world. Every day, they perform back-breaking work—often from sunup to sundown—to put food on our tables and sustain Arkansas’s economy.
It’s a tall task. And one that’s only expected to become more difficult in the years to come. According to the Arkansas Farm Bureau, our state’s farmers and ranchers will soon have to find new ways “to become more productive to feed the growing world population” and support this critical $16 billion annual industry.
So, how can they can keep up with increasing consumer demand, particularly in light of current global market difficulties related to the coronavirus?
Like every sector of our economy, COVID-19 has thrown Arkansas’ agricultural industry for a loop. As the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture recently noted, our state’s row crop farmers are dealing with an unreliable labor force, yo-yoing commodity prices, supply chain issues and rapidly-shifting consumer preferences. Elsewhere, panic buying has led to temporary price spikes for our beef producers. However, these financial gains may soon be wiped out as customers opt for cheaper protein cuts to reduce their overall household expenditures.
One bright spot for Arkansas’ agricultural industry: solar power.
Thanks to steadily declining costs, an increasing number of Arkansas farms, ranches and agriculture-related businesses have added, or are in the process of adding, solar panels to decrease their total cash expenses. Take Eagle Lake Farm in Newport as an example. With the help of Seal Solar’s credentialed team, Eagle Lake is currently installing a 300-kilowatt solar array. Once online, these panels will help offset multiple grain bins, well pumps and other farm accounts for nearly $2 million in net savings.
Fortunately, Eagle Lake is not alone. With the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program Grants and the 26% Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, many Arkansas farms and ranches are now harnessing solar technology to turn underused or previously unproductive acreage into some of their most valuable financial assets.
Today, our state’s agricultural producers are able to use these panels to help run their irrigation systems, water wells, fence chargers, greenhouses, sensors, lighting and more. Solar is helping them gain long-term control of their energy costs, significantly extend their seasons and, in certain cases, better market their products to sustainability-mindful consumers.
The coronavirus has caused untold financial difficulties. But Arkansas’ agricultural industry has never shied away from a challenge. By continuing to support pro-solar policies that promote the use of affordable, reliable and clean energy, we can help our state’s farmers, ranchers and agriculture-related businesses sow economic success during COVID-19 and beyond.
Editor’s note: Heather Nelson is the co-founder and president of Seal Solar, an Arkansas-based solar business that offers turnkey solutions to homeowners, businesses, government entities and farmers. The opinions expressed are those of the author.