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Facing Decreasing Demand, Cranberry Farmers Turn to Solar

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Jun 3, 2021 3:38 pm GMT
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Cranberry prices are plummeting all across the country. As a result, cranberry farmers are looking for new ways to boost their income to continue producing the fruit. Although farmers could always create more cranberry bogs, it’s not realistic.

Fortunately, an innovative solution could be the savior that cranberry farmers need — solar power. Facing decreasing demand, cranberry farmers turn to solar to keep their businesses afloat.

Agrivoltaics: The Power of Solar on Farms

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Already, farmers who do not produce cranberries have used solar power to increase revenue on their farms. Known as agrivoltaics, farmers install solar panels above their crops or grazing fields. This allows for a harmonious relationship between the crops and the panels.

As the crops grow or the animals graze, the solar panels can produce electricity on a large scale. The farmer then can passively make an income from the sun's energy and still make an income from their crops or cattle. Adding renewable energy to cranberry farms would provide great strides for sustainability goals in the agricultural industry.

Smaller farms have already practiced this technique, but those in the cranberry industry wish to do this on a larger scale and over a crop that grows in water rather than on land. The first set of solar panels installed over cranberry bogs are supposed to be set in Massachusetts later this year.

Cranberries and the Sun

The installation of solar panels on cranberry farms could offer financial peace for struggling cranberry farmers, and it would provide new potential for renewable energy to expand. A relationship between the farmers and solar developers would be long-term, offering a stable partnership where both parties greatly benefit.

Solar workers would install the solar panels in an array to be high enough above the ground that they don’t interfere with crop growth. Plus, since cranberry farms are more clustered and are grown in large quantities, the solar panels would have to be spaced out far enough so cranberry crops could safely grow underneath. This would also provide enough space for harvesters to gather the cranberries without worrying about running into the solar panels.

Cranberry farmers are in desperate need of extra revenue. Over the last decade, the price of cranberries has drastically decreased. In 2008, the price of a barrel of cranberries was nearly $60, and now, that price is about $25, meaning cranberry farmers have lost over half of their income. Unfortunately, the cost to produce berries is greater than the price they’re sold at, so farmers are losing money on the time, effort and finances they put into growing them.

Dual-Use Farming Could Save Cranberry Farms Nationwide and Boost Renewable Energy Usage

States like Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Oregon and New Jersey lead the nation in cranberry production. Cranberries have been around for a long time, and they are one of the few fruits native to America. In 2018, harvesters gathered over 40,000 acres worth of cranberries.

Forty-thousand acres is a lot of land devoted to just cranberries, so using that land as dual-use will benefit both the cranberry farmers and those working in renewable energy as well. If that much land could also be used for solar panels, the renewable energy potential would be great. Additionally, cranberry farmers would see a decrease in energy costs, which could reduce the prices for production, meaning they can begin making money per barrel.

An Opportunity to Keep the Cranberry Industry Going

While solar farming may not be the answer for all cranberry farms due to sunlight and other conditions, it is one answer. Demand for cranberries has slowly declined over the years, but cranberry farmers have not lost hope. As research continues for these dual-use cranberry farms, cranberry farmers and solar producers alike are in high hopes for a lasting partnership.

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Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Jun 3, 2021

I can't believe you missed the chance to write a headline like, "With business bogged down, cranberry farmers turn to solar."

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 3, 2021

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