• Steve Eberly

Best uses for our farmland

Updated: May 6

I have noted that with the ongoing discussions related to our phenomenal expansion of solar energy projects in Indiana, the question of farmland used for energy continues to come up as a rationale to stop or limit solar projects in Indiana. Let's talk a little about why solar is a great use for some of our farmland.

I was a Governor appointee to the Indiana Land Resources Council, where I served a 4-year term ending in 2019. As part of the Councils’ role, we discussed how to keep Indiana at the forefront of being a wonderful place to live and raise families, maintain our international prominence in agriculture production, and have ample and expanding natural areas for both preservation and recreation. I believe solar energy can be a viable part of that land use philosophy.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Indiana had 14,969,996 acres of farmland. It is interesting to note that if you add up all of the acreage currently announced for the proposed larger solar farms in Indiana, these projects utilize less than one-half of one percent of the Hoosier farmland.

But I understand this is difficult to look at from such a large lens, so let's explore from a different lens. When we think about land use, let's first remember this is not public or government-owned land. This is land owned privately, by farmers. I was brought up to respect someone else's rights, and I figure most of you were too. In fact, Hoosiers for Renewables did a poll not too long ago and found that 78% of Hoosiers agree that farmers have the right to choose what they want to do with their land, including develop renewable energy*.

A landowner should be able to decide how to use and profit from their own land (assuming they are abiding by the law, of course). And when they decide to lease their land for solar energy development, the great thing is that the surrounding community benefits, too.

For example, in Knox County, where they recently approved the Ratts II Solar Project, the 1,200-acre project is less than one-half of a percent of farmland in the county. Over the next 25-30 years, the landowners will receive a steady income to provide for their families. Their decision to lease their land will enable millions of dollars in new tax revenue.

Or in White County, the proposed Cavalry Solar will be less than 1% of farmland – only 1,800 acres. Meanwhile, a private company's $206 million investment will provide an estimated $22.5 million in new property taxes to the county. So, in addition to millions that White County farmers will benefit from, the community also wins.

Farmers understand that by utilizing solar as another cash crop, they can help their families, farms, and communities.

Next time I see that farmer who's decided to harvest a little sunshine, I'll say thank you. He or she is thinking of new ways to provide for their family, keep the farmland in their name – and all the while bringing new economic development to their community. That's a pretty great way to use Hoosier land.

*Survey conducted by Bellwether Research. 600 interviews conducted among registered Indiana voters. Interviews were conducted on a multimode sample of mobile-app based interviews and live calls to landlines and cell phones.