New reports highlight best practices of combining solar energy and agriculture

Two new reports from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) highlight the potential for successfully and synergistically combining agriculture and solar photovoltaics (PV) technologies on the same land, a practice known as agrivoltaics. With ground-mounted solar deployment projected to triple by 2030, there will be many opportunities to increase agrivoltaic practices.

The first report, The 5 Cs of Agrivoltaic Success Factors in the United States: Lessons From the InSPIRE Research Study, examines the Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE) project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) starting in 2015. Over the past seven years, the project’s multiple phases have studied the co-location of solar with crops, grazing cattle or sheep, and/or pollinator-friendly native plants, and the resulting ecological and agricultural benefits.

According to InSPIRE research, there are five central elements that lead to agrivoltaic success:

  • Climate, Soil, and Environmental Conditions – The location must be appropriate for both solar generation and the desired crops or ground cover. Generally, land that is suitable for solar is suitable for agriculture, as long as the soil can sustain growth.
  • Configurations, Technologies, and Designs – The choice of solar technology, the site layout, and other infrastructure can affect everything from how much light reaches the solar panels to whether a tractor, if needed, can drive under the panels.
  • Crop Selection and Cultivation Methods, Seed and Vegetation Designs, and Management Approaches – Agrivoltaic projects should select crops or ground covers that will thrive in the local climate and under solar panels, and that are profitable in local markets.
  • Compatibility and Flexibility – Agrivoltaics should be designed to accommodate the competing needs of solar owners, solar operators, and farmers or landowners to allow for efficient agricultural activities.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships – For any project to succeed, communication and understanding between groups is crucial.

The InSPIRE project also captured lessons for researchers. The Agriculture and Solar Together: Research Opportunities (ASTRO) report addresses emerging questions related to scaling up agrivoltaic deployment, identifying barriers, and supporting improved decision-making about agrivoltaic investments.

InSPIRE is the largest, longest-running, and most comprehensive agrivoltaics research effort in the world. The project has supported agrivoltaics site design or ongoing research at 28 sites in 11 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

Learn more about agrivoltaics research on the InSPIRE website and through the AgriSolar Clearinghouse, which features videos, tutorials, and guides that address a wide range of topics.

Learn more about SETO’s research into solar and agriculture co-location.

Connecticut’s shellfish population gets a boost with state’s first restoration guide

Read the full story from Pew.

The Connecticut Shellfish Restoration Guide provides science-based, well-tested techniques to help oyster farmers, state and local officials, academic institutions, and others involved in restoration efforts increase shellfish and fish populations, improve water quality, strengthen coastal habitats, and stabilize shorelines.

One component of the guide is the CT Shellfish Restoration Map Viewer, an online, interactive mapping tool released in 2021. Previously, without a central, comprehensive habitat map to work from, oyster restoration practitioners had insufficient information from which to choose sites effectively, and state and local agencies had a hard time properly evaluating shellfish restoration projects. That led to approval and permit delays, among other problems. The viewer helps users identify the best locations for siting shellfish restoration projects.

Study finds minimal risk of exposure to legionella from irrigated wastewater at a safe distance

Read the full story from the Prairie Research Institute.

Potential exposure to legionella bacteria in municipal wastewater used to irrigate crop fields will likely not pose a health threat to residents living downwind, according to a postdoctoral researcher at the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Using reclaimed wastewater from water treatment plants to irrigate crops can be a viable solution to ease the effects of drought and reduce stress on local surface and groundwater resources. Yet, legionella pneumophila, which is widespread in man-made water systems, can survive the aeration and air transport from irrigation systems with potential harmful effects. People who inhale the tiny water droplets can contract Legionnaires’ disease, a serious form of pneumonia.

Almost 90% of marine species at risk under high emissions scenarios: ‘Mitigation needs to occur now’

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

Fresh research shows that high emissions scenarios place the vast majority of ocean life at ‘high’ or ‘critical’ risk, with implications for the economic wellbeing of costal economies and future food security.

Study: Organic dairy farming can store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Read the full story at Environment + Energy Leader.

A new study in the August issue of the “Journal of Cleaner Production” reveals that it is possible for farms to sequester carbon and reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions. A University of Wisconsin Madison research group unveiled a dairy lifecycle assessment conducted on Organic Valley farms that shows small organic dairy farms, which focus on grazing and organic production techniques, are low greenhouse gas champions.

Nearly all marine species face extinction if greenhouse emissions don’t drop: study

Read the full story at The Hill.

Maintaining the status quo for greenhouse gas emissions could risk the extinction of up to 90 percent of marine species, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

Researchers, led by ecologist Daniel Boyce of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia, looked at some 25,000 species, including animals, plants, protozoans and bacteria. Under a high-emission scenario, they determined that nearly 90 percent of those species will be at high-to-critical risk across 85 percent of their distribution. This scenario involves an increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius in global ocean temperatures by the end of the century. 

The good, the bad and the tasty of the IRA

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is law and providing the food sector a whole new world of possibilities.

Biochar and compost for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Read the full story from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

The climate crisis and years of unsustainable farming in the United States have resulted in soil erosion, pollinator loss, farmworkers and livestock exposed to extreme heat, and other harmful impacts. In 2019, 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture. At the same time, farmers and the land they work are vulnerable to climate impacts such as drought and extreme weather.

Sustainable soil amendments such as biochar and compost are among the many agricultural practices that can help farmers mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. This is the final article in EESI’s five-part series on sustainable agricultural practices including cover crops, agroforestry, no-till farming, sustainable livestock grazing, and soil amendments.

Federal Fisheries Management: Opportunities Exist to Enhance Climate Resilience

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What GAO Found

Fisheries managers comprised of eight Regional Fishery Management Councils (Councils) and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division (HMS Division) have generally used climate information to a limited extent in fisheries management activities. For example, GAO identified 12 out of 46 fishery management plans and amendments that considered climate-related information. However, many fisheries managers are leading initiatives that could advance the use of climate information in management, such as addressing distributional shifts in species, pictured below. Initiatives include the creation of a special task force to identify actions and tools to better incorporate climate information in fisheries management. Six of nine fisheries managers told GAO that they were not aware of climate-related fisheries management activities taking place in other regions. According to a few stakeholders, fisheries managers could benefit from learning about such actions, but NMFS does not regularly collect or share this information. According to GAO’s Disaster Resilience Framework, federal efforts can help decision makers better identify and select actions to enhance climate resilience. An effort by NMFS to regularly collect and publicly share information on climate-related activities taken by fisheries managers could help decision makers identify and prioritize resilience measures.

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Map from the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Distribution Mapping and Analysis Portal Showing Changes in Black Sea Bass Distribution from 1974 to 2019

NMFS and fisheries managers face challenges to enhancing the climate resilience of federal fisheries, including limited data and modeling information, and resource constraints. However, opportunities exist to help address these challenges based on GAO’s review of relevant literature and a 2018 NMFS guidance document on fisheries management and climate change. For example, one potential opportunity to help address limited fisheries data involves NMFS partnering with the fishing industry to collect data through equipment on commercial vessels. Most NMFS regions (three of five) have taken some related actions and shared the 2018 guidance document with the Councils. However, GAO found that one Council was not familiar with the document and that NMFS is not actively working with Councils on implementing opportunities that it identifies. According to the principles outlined in the Disaster Resilience Framework, NMFS could help address climate-related challenges facing the Councils by collaborating with them to identify, prioritize, and plan to implement opportunities to enhance the climate resilience of federal fisheries.

Why GAO Did This Study

Commercial and recreational marine fisheries managed by NMFS and regional fisheries managers are critical to the nation’s economy. These fisheries contributed nearly $118 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product and 1.8 million jobs in 2019. The increasing effects of climate change can alter the number and location of fisheries and have negative economic consequences on fishing-reliant industries and coastal communities.

House Report 116-455 includes a provision for GAO to examine federal efforts to prepare and adapt federal or jointly managed fisheries for the impacts of climate change. This GAO report examines, among other things, (1) the extent to which fisheries managers have used climate information and (2) challenges to enhancing the climate resilience of federal fisheries and opportunities to address challenges. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, NMFS documents, and relevant literature. GAO interviewed representatives from all five NMFS regions; NMFS’ HMS Division; all eight Councils; and all three interstate commissions, as well as 15 relevant stakeholders, selected based on geographic diversity and other factors.Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO is recommending that NMFS (1) regularly collect and share information on fishery management activities for enhancing climate resilience and (2) work with federal fisheries managers to identify and prioritize climate resilience opportunities and develop a plan to implement them. The agency agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency AffectedRecommendationStatus
National Marine Fisheries ServiceThe Assistant Administrator for NMFS should regularly collect and publicly disseminate information on actions taken by the Regional Fishery Management Councils and NMFS’ Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division to enhance the climate resilience of federal fisheries, such as fishery management plans that use climate information. (Recommendation 1)When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
National Marine Fisheries ServiceThe Assistant Administrator for NMFS should direct the agency’s regional offices and fisheries science centers to work with the Regional Fishery Management Councils and NMFS’ Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division in their respective regions to identify and prioritize opportunities to enhance the climate resilience of federal fisheries, including by reviewing the opportunities described in this report and in NMFS’ 2018 guidance document, Accounting for Shifting Distributions and Changing Productivity in the Fishery Management Process, and develop a plan to implement them. (Recommendation 2)When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

With Corn Belt inching north, farm diversification gains momentum

Read the full story at Investigate Midwest.

Climate change is redrawing the agricultural map of the United States. As corn becomes less economically viable with changing Midwestern weather patterns, farmers look to a more diverse future.