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Assessing Agricultural Productivity and Informing Adoption of Dual-Use Solar Arrays on Massachusetts Farmland

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Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Dwayne
Breger
Department of Project: 
Department of Environmental Conservation
Project Description: 

Dual-use systems are still novel, and to a degree experimental. What agricultural activities are most compatible with dual-use is not well understood, nor is whether the new incentive will be sufficient to spur significant adoption of dual-use cropping systems. UMass has important roles in the development and adoption of dual-use systems. First, UMass Extension will serve as a clearinghouse of information and an educational resource for the agricultural and solar energy communities regarding the new technology and new incentive program. Second, UMass faculty will provide feedback to DOER and the agricultural community regarding the success of the program, and suggest any modifications that could help further the goal of promoting expansion of renewable energy capacity, while preserving farmland and agricultural production capacity within the state.  In keeping with these roles, UMass Clean Energy Extension (CEE) is proposing an investigation that will address gaps in agricultural knowledge about the impact of dual-use systems on agricultural methods and productivity, while also exploring farmer motivations and decision-making around the adoption of this new technology.
CEE will initially conduct a review of existing research regarding dual-use systems and consult with experts, including UMass agricultural extension staff, in order to prepare information and "best practices" for applicable farm activities in the state, including production of vegetables, fruit, hay, livestock, and horticulture. We will develop research instruments that allow farmers to establish farm plans and production estimates based on shading analysis of the dual-use array, and to report on their actual annual production and farm plan revisions for each subsequent year.
Investigators will combine the information gathered from annual reporting by farmers with qualitative analyses to understand the relative success of the dual-use systems, including yield, irrigation, operations, pest and disease management, and farmer and developer satisfaction. A research database of dual-use farming activities across array size and design, agricultural activity, soil condition, and growing seasons, will be established to document best management practices, and report on findings to local, state, and national stakeholders and the research community.
In addition, we will evaluate and characterize farmer interest and motivations concerning adoption of dual-use systems and renewable energy development in general. We will conduct and report on surveys and interviews with farmers and solar developers at educational workshops, at meetings, and through one-on-one interactions at site visits to prospective dual-use farming locations. We will also obtain additional information from agricultural organizations throughout the state to better understand other possible factors involved in farmer adoption or rejection of renewable energy technologies in general, and dual-use systems in particular. We will analyze our findings in light of the existing research on technology adoption by farmers to advance scientific knowledge and inform the state incentive program.

Energy topics: 
Solar PV