Sun power - no baa-rrier for these sheep

Sheep grazing under solar panels at farms in NSW's Central West have produced better wool and more of it. You’ll never guess why.

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Key Points

  • Sheep grazing on solar farm trials shows an increase in wool quantity and quality.
  • There are calls for more research on the co-location of agriculture and renewable energy.
  • Some famers are skeptical and have called for a moratorium on new projects until a government review of agriculture and renewable energy has been completed.

Local graziers have labelled the set-up a "complete win-win", with the sheep helping to keep grass and weeds down so as not to obscure the panels.

In turn, the panels provided shade for the sheep and grass, and helped prevent the soil from drying out.

Wool Broker Graeme Ostini, who has been grazing merino wethers at a solar farm near Parkes in a trial with the Parkes Show Society, said he had seen the benefits of running the animals under panels.

He said his sheep were slightly lighter stocked than the average in the district but were cutting an "amazing" amount of wool.

"It is actually quite astonishing. Some of the sheep look fantastic. They're growing exponentially and the wool cuts are in the top 5% in the district."

He said he credited the good season and the solar panels for the improvement.

Carrying capacity increase of 25%

While Mr Ostini's sheep were lighter stocked than average, Dubbo farmer and grazier Tom Warren's were slightly higher.

Mr Warren leases part of his land to a solar farm and runs about 250 merino ewes and wethers on 54 hectares among the panels.

Like Mr Ostini, Mr Warren also reported impressive results.

He has not noticed an increase in wool quantity but said the quality had improved.

"It'll be because of the conditions the sheep are living in," he said.

"It's relatively clean, without burrs, without dust. There's very, very little contamination of the wool and they're protected from the sun as well."

Mr Warren said the carrying capacity of the land had also increased by about 25%.

During the drought, water condensed on the solar panels in the mornings. The trickling of the water to the grass below keep strips of pasture green. In all, he said by leasing his land to the solar farm and grazing his sheep there, his income had increased.

Caution urged

Earlier this year, a review into the issues and opportunities arising from the growth of the renewable energy and agriculture sectors was commissioned by the NSW Government.

NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean said he "would consider any opportunities to improve existing frameworks, such as a coexistence of solar and wind with farming".

There have been 100 submissions made to the review and the final report is due at the end of the year.

Independent Wagga Wagga MP Joe McGirr has called for a moratorium on all solar farm developments until the review is finished.

Clean Energy Bonds

National Seniors is calling on the Federal Government to consider our idea of issuing Clean Energy Bonds to the public.

Clean Energy Bonds could be used to raise billions of dollars to fund large scale renewable energy production and storage projects, which are needed to meet emissions targets and stabilise energy prices.

National Seniors research has found that older Australians would be attracted to investing in such a product.

To find out more about our proposal click here.

Source: ABC News

Image courtesy of Antalexion, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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