Merino sheep grazing under solar panels produce better wool, trial finds

According to producers, sheep grazing under solar panels on farms in mid-west New South Wales have produced better and more wool in the four years since the projects began.

Local ranchers called the installation a “complete win-win”, with the sheep helping to keep grass and weeds down so as not to obscure the panels.

In turn, the panels provided shade for sheep and grass, and helped prevent the soil from drying out.

Wool broker Graeme Ostini, who has grazed merino sheep on a solar farm near Parkes as part of a trial with the Parkes Show Society, said he had seen the benefits of running the animals under panels.

He said his sheep had slightly less stock than the district average, but they were shearing an “astonishing” amount of wool.

Mr. Warren’s sheep have been able to graze almost every drought year thanks to the condensation on the panels.(Provided: Tom Warren)

He said he credited the good season and the solar panels for the improvement.

Increased load capacity by 25pc

While Mr. Ostini’s sheep were lighter than average, those of farmer and breeder Dubbo Tom Warren were slightly heavier.

Mr. Warren leases part of his land to a solar farm and operates around 250 merino ewes and ewes on 54 hectares among the panels.

Like Mr. Ostini, Mr. Warren also reported impressive results.

He did not notice an increase in the amount of wool, but said the quality had improved.

“It will be because of the conditions the sheep live in,” he said.

Tom Warren standing among the solar panels on his farm in Dubbo.
Solar panels use sun tracking technology to move with the sun.(ABC Rural: Hannah Jose)

Mr Warren said the carrying capacity of the pitch had also increased by around 25%.

During the drought, water condensed on the solar panels in the morning. Water runoff on the grass below keeps the pasture strips green.

In total, he says, by renting his land to the solar farm and grazing his sheep there, his income has increased.

More research, more studies

Madeline Taylor, a researcher in energy policy and landowners’ rights, said the field needs more research and, crucially, more funding for pilot projects.

“We are starting to have a very good database of studies showing how co-location of agriculture and photovoltaics can be done successfully,” Dr Taylor said.

Dr Taylor said there would be benefits in having larger scale studies.

Condensation forms on the edges of the solar panels on Tom Warren's farm.
Condensation forms on the edges of the solar panels on Tom Warren’s farm.(ABC Rural: Hannah Jose)

Skeptics urge caution

Earlier this year, a review of the issues and opportunities arising from the growth of the renewable energy and agriculture sectors was commissioned by the New South Wales government.

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