Green energy darkens future for some farmers


“If the landowners agree, they basically euthanize their farms,” Arnusch said. “The money looks good, and essentially forever (50 year lease contract), but it will destroy the area forever, in my opinion.

“This is the first time in my career as a farmer that I have encountered competing interest in farmland from the energy sector. With solar energy, they need all that land,” said- he declared. On some farms he will have some influence to say what is going on and on others he will not.

“Some landowners will decide to go ahead with solar power, and when they do, it will close the chapter, on some level, on agricultural heritage in eastern Colorado. It’s not something that you have a knee-jerk reaction to,” he said.

With dwindling water resources, the issue becomes even murkier. That leaves Arnusch and farmers like him in the area wondering what is the best use for this land? Is it still production agriculture? Is it solar? Is it wind? Is it a hybrid of all of the above?

“Can we transition to farming locally to the point where we no longer need to consider these competing land surface interests in order to preserve our farms? That’s a tall order and I don’t I don’t have quick answers,” he admitted.

These opportunities often look different depending on where you are in your farming career, he added. “For those like my son, niece and nephew who are just getting started, they are not only competing with other farmers for land and with Mother Nature to make that land produce, but now they also have to dealing with the energy sector.

“Ultimately this could mean that the next generation will be forced to look to farm elsewhere,” he added. Seeking to cultivate in another location is difficult, as the emotional ties to this region are strong.

“When we thought of solar in the past, we thought of it in the desert of Arizona or the pastures of eastern and southern Colorado. We didn’t think of prime farmland. Three years ago, it wasn’t even on our radar,” Arnusch said.

“But the reason energy companies come is our infrastructure – utility lines, transmission lines, three-phase power and proximity to urban users. My community ticks every box,” he said. he adds.

The benefits of adopting these infrastructure projects include job creation, tax base and revenue, and energy itself. “It’s good for our county. It’s good for our city and it’s good for Colorado.

“But on the other hand, there is a loss of that surface. A waste of food ingredients. A loss of market opportunities. There is a loss of identity. I also look at things through a farmer’s lens and I know my voice is biased,” he admitted.

“I also believe and trust that people will make good decisions when their eyes are wide open, the facts are in front of them and they have a set of priorities,” he added.

Ensuring farmers are at the table as part of the stakeholder process is key, he said. Ensuring that all of his farm partners are part of the conversation is equally essential.

“We are debating whether this is an option on water-limited or underperforming farms. Where does this make sense? What are our options?

“We don’t have the answers, but we approach it as a family. It doesn’t always mean that every member of the family can veto the final decision, but they are all part of the process,” he said. he declares.


As an independent and young farmer at that, Garrabrant feels similar pressures and admits they cause him sleepless nights. Wind, solar, homes and factories built by Intel Corporation are all reducing the availability of land in his area.

Many might consider him lucky to have possible opportunities as the land increases in value. However, Garrabrant leases a good portion of its operation.

He and his wife, Paige, renovate their dream farm and try to build a future for their family around farming. He doesn’t remember ever wanting not to be a farmer.

“I want to build a farm store in the next few years and I don’t even know where to put it, to be honest,” he said.

A large solar project is proposed within five miles of his main farm. “There are so many green energy projects around that I lost track,” Garrabrant said.

“Some of the numbers I hear circulating, I can’t blame people for signing up, but it certainly puts pressure on land availability,” he said.

“On the other hand, there may be situations where a farmer wants to retire and accepts this deal and still has a few hundred acres that he rents out because it’s not enough to farm himself. Maybe, just maybe, he could look out for a young farmer like me,” he said hopefully.

Like Arnusch, he finds it difficult not to let his farming soul enter his thoughts regarding these projects. “It kinda kills me to see good productive land covered. It looks like we could be a little more creative and find ways to do that without taking the best land in the state out of production,” Garrabrant said.

“I understand the need for green power, I just wonder if we’re going about it the right way,” he added.

Perhaps it’s the length of the engagement that adds to his unease. “I look at these arrangements and they’re 30 or 40 years old and I suddenly realize that this covers the most productive part of my professional life as well,” he said.

“A lot of things change in this area and it becomes difficult to navigate. It’s just a question of how far it will go and how can I include it in the long-term plans”, a- he added.

For now, he will control what he can control. The harvest is approaching. The combine harvester needs to be overhauled. He wants to be ready when the harvest is ready, because it will probably be a bit late.

The yield prognosis, however, is good. “The corn cobs I pulled were 16 to 18 around and 36 kernel rows deep. I didn’t see any pollination issues,” he said. The weather conditions were ideal when pollinating in his area. Foliar diseases are so far absent.

“We’re starting to get a little dry, but the forecast is good for the weekend. Now those grains and those pods just have to fill up,” he said.

Pamela Smith can be contacted at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN


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