The significant growth of the solar energy sector provides a new source of income for sheep farmers, with payments in exchange for grazing with ground-mounted panels.
A company called Sheep Solutions serves as a link between energy companies and farmers in France and Belgium, and now also operates in the UK.
It is initially offering deals for a 10ha site in Gwithian, Cornwall, and a 56ha solar park in County Durham.
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Most solar panels are surrounded by secure fencing, and in a year when fodder is scarce, these deals could provide food security, said Mathilde Leguedois, assistant manager at Sheep Solutions.
“We already have agreements for next year with major solar energy groups,” said Ms. Leguedois.
“The number of solar power parks is increasing as the development of green energy is a priority for the UK government.
“For the farmer, it allows additional income and grazing areas and, for the customer, it provides an ecological and economical solution,” she said.
The panels provide shade and the infrastructure also acts as a windbreak.
Revenue depends on site size – payments are made in recognition of management, transportation, portable material handling equipment, labor and other factors.
“Last year, our parent company in France paid around €200,000 to around 20 farmers,” Ms Leguedois said.
“We hope to bring this same level of payment to English sheep farmers, if not more.”
Indeed, the size of solar parks in the UK tends to be larger than in France.
Sheep grazing instead of mechanical grass management eliminates the risk of damage from tractors or mowers hitting solar equipment or mowers throwing rocks that can damage panels.
Sheep Solutions aims to obtain contracts for a period of three to five years.
Flock owners are responsible for the shepherd and must insure against damage to the site by the sheep.