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Info from farmers about sheep grazing plan at proposed OPALCO Microgrid project

  • Written by Adam Greene
Adam Greene posted the following information about the proposed OPALCO solar on Facebook.
 
Sarah Pope and I run Oak Knoll Farm, and we’ve been working with OPALCO to make this project compatible with ag. We are the sheep grazers in question. Some info:
  • Oak Knoll farm raises between 120-180 sheep, and we sell meat (mostly to restaurants and butcher shops on the mainland), focus on wool for our yarn company, and breeding stock for other island farms.
  • We’re located on between Little Rd, Douglas Rd, and the Oaks, right across the street from the proposed site
  • We lease around 200 acres around SJI for grazing and haying. We have the hay lease at Zylstra. Some of the land we pay to use, but most of the land we either don’t pay, or we get paid to graze (for fire mitigation and vegetation management)
  • We looked at purchasing the property in question, but it was priced way outside of ag prices. 
  • That parcel is severely degraded and is not productive. We tried to graze sheep on it but it is covered in buttercup, which is poisonous to livestock, and there just wasn’t enough going on for it to be worth it at that time.
  • Agrivoltaics, agrophotovoltaics, agrisolar, or dual-use solar is the simultaneous use of areas of land for both solar panels and agriculture. Just to get that definition out of the way so we're all talking about the same thing!
  • OPALCO has been great to work with, and we have a good working relationship based upon a best-effort and honest approach to make this work for both Ag and OPALCO members
  • Sheep aren’t just window dressing: OPALCO has put up significant resources to make it compatible with ag, including raising the height of the panels (requiring deeper pillars and more steel), deer fencing, livestock fencing, activating the well and providing potable water, 120v AC power on site for things like fence energizers, and funding for soil amendments. They've made a sincere effort to make the site dual-purpose from the get go, through the lifespan of the project and through to decommissioning.
  • These improvements are not exclusive to grazing but can be used by market garden or other ag enterprises
  • OPALCO will also be paying us to provide vegetation management. It isn’t enough to run a business, but it will be a value-add. The rates will be comparable to mowing and other agrivoltaic sites (most of which are on the east coast)
  • I’m excited about the opportunity to bring Ag into the public sphere and help create a good working relationship with public entities, including getting paid for vegetation management services, that can be used by other farms in the future.
  • I'm also excited to work with OPALCO to take what is basically derelict farm land and make it productive.
  • At that site, we'll be following a conservation grazing approach, meaning the goal isn't to maximize for sheep growth, but to maximize for pasture health, so deep roots, lots of growth, diversity of plants, pollinator habitat, etc. It won't look like a lawn!
  • No, I’m not getting paid to write this; no contract is signed but drafts are being finalized.
  • And the bald eagles nest and perch on our property. If that is still a concern. We know as we keep an eye on the raptors, especially around lambing season
 Obviously I can’t speak for OPALCO, but Sarah and I run a pretty open farm and are happy to share our experiences, and expectations and goals for this project.

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