“If landlords agree, they essentially put their farms to sleep,” Arnus said. “Money sounds good and is essentially perpetual (50 year lease) but in my opinion it will destroy the sector forever.
“This is the first time in my farming career that I have experienced competing interest from the energy sector for farmland. With solar, they need a full surface,” he said. On some farms he will have some influence on what happens and on others not.
He said, “Some landlords will choose to move on to solar power, and if they do, they will eventually close the chapter on eastern Colorado’s farming heritage. It’s not something to kneel on.”
This question becomes more complicated as water resources decrease. That leaves Arnush and farmers like him with the question of how best to use this land. Is it still producing agriculture? is it solar is the wind? Is it a mix of all of the above?
He conceded, “Can we transform local agriculture enough that we don’t have to accommodate these competing interests for surface land to sustain our farms? It’s a big challenge and I have. There are no quick answers.”
Those opportunities often look different, he said, depending on where you are in your farming career. “For people like my son and nieces and nephews who are just starting out, not only are they competing with other farmers for the land and with nature to make the land productive, but they are now getting it from the energy sector. Must deal
“Ultimately, this may mean that the next generation will be forced to farm elsewhere,” he said. Second place is difficult to maintain as the emotional attachment to this area is strong.
“In the past, when we thought of solar energy, we thought of the Arizona deserts or the pasture grasses of eastern and southern Colorado. We weren’t thinking of prime farmland. It was also on our radar three years ago. Wasn’t,’ said Arnush.
“But the reason energy companies come is because of our infrastructure — utility lines, transmission lines, three-phase power, and proximity to urban users. My community checks every box,” he said.
Job creation, tax base, and revenue and energy are the factors that play a role in the acceptance of these infrastructure projects. “It’s good for our district. This is good for our city and good for Colorado.
“But on the other hand, that surface is lost. Loss of feed ingredients. loss of market opportunities. There is a loss of identity. I think the cons outweigh the pros and there is a more logical way to approach the problem. But I also look at things from a farmer’s perspective and I know my voice is biased.”
“I believe and also believe that people will make good decisions when their eyes are open, they have facts in front of them and they have a set of priorities,” he said.
It is important to ensure farmers are on the table as part of the stakeholder process, he added. It is just as important that all his companions talk at the farm.
“We’re beginning to wonder if this water is an option for limited or underperforming operations. Where does it make sense? What are our options?
“We don’t have an answer, but we look at it as family. That doesn’t mean that every family member can veto the final decision, but they are all part of the process,” he said.
Luke Garbrandt: Johnstown, Ohio
As an independent farmer and then youth, Garbrant feels similar pressures and admits they give him a few sleepless nights. Wind, Solar, Home and Manufacturing, all being built by Intel Corporation, are squeezing land availability in their area.
Many are fortunate to have potential as the land appreciates in value. However, Garbrant leases a significant portion of its operations.
He and his wife Paige are renovating their dream farmhouse and trying to build their family’s future around farming. He can’t remember never wanting to be a farmer.
“I want to build a farm shop in the next few years and to be honest I don’t even know where to put it,” he says.
A large solar project is proposed within five miles of their main agricultural work. “There are so many green energy projects out there that I’ve lost track,” Garbrant said.
“With some numbers I’ve heard, I can’t blame people for signing up, but it’s definitely putting pressure on land availability,” he said.
“On the other hand, there may be situations where a farmer wants to retire and makes a deal and is left with a few hundred acres of land that he leases because there isn’t enough to farm himself. Maybe, just maybe, he can see for a young farmer like me,” he said hopefully.
Like Arnush, he finds it difficult not to let his peasant spirit flow into the thinking behind these projects. Garbrant said: “It strikes me to see good productive land being obscured. It seems like we can get a little more creative and find ways to do this without taking the best country in the state out of production.”
“I understand the need for green energy and I wonder if we’re doing it the right way,” he said.
Perhaps it’s the length of the commitment that fuels his uneasiness. “I look at these agreements and they’re 30 or 40 years old and suddenly it dawns on me that this is the most productive part of my working life,” he said.
“A lot is changing in this area and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find your way around. How far will it go and how do I fit it into my long-term plans,” he said.
For now, he will control what he can control. The harvest is coming. The alliance must be ended. He wants to be ready when the harvest is done as it can take a while.
However, the earnings forecast is good. “The corn cobs I grew are about 16 by 18 and 36 rows deep. I haven’t seen any pollination problems,” he said. Weather conditions were ideal during pollination in its area. Leaf diseases are missing so far.
“We’re drying out a bit, but the forecast for the weekend is good. Now those seeds and pods need to be filled,” he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at [email protected]
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