How Solar Energy Affects Micro Farming

Guest blog by Brigg Patten

Almost by definition, farmland tends to be away from the city and thus far from the infrastructure of the urban environment. Thus, alternative power sources are incredibly important for farms all over the world (as well as off-grid communities). Solar plays a big role today, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Here are some ways solar energy is impacting micro farming:

1. Power Production and Income Generation

Some farms are using solar energy to provide power for all the normal things a house or farm would need, such as lights and heat. Others are installing solar power in areas which cannot be used to grow food in order to sell the excess power and help make their land profitable. Generating power in the middle of nowhere can make a micro farm possible where it otherwise would not be. Using it to offset power costs can help keep expenses down, something important for any successful operation. Going one step further and turning it into an income source can help ensure the financial survival of the operation during lean times and the off season.

2. Bringing Agriculture to Remote Areas

Communities that lack the resources to build substantial infrastructure can now install off grid infrastructure to jump start local development. This is particularly important in developing countries. In some areas, the importance of cell phones to remote communities has resulted in the development of cell towers in the middle of nowhere. This then gets paired with solar power to start the development process. In addition, an e-learning company can play an important role in keeping people in remote areas informed and connected to the latest developments.

3. Pumping Water

Long before we invented electricity, water was necessary to agriculture. It still is. Solar water pumps can help make agriculture viable in areas with too little rain where locals are dependent on groundwater. It can be pumped into a reservoir or used to irrigate cropland. It can easily be used to power a simple drip irrigation system. This is especially compatible with micro farms, which depend upon keeping costs low and technological systems on the small scale.

4. Water Heating

Solar water heating can be relatively low tech and inexpensive. Instead of converting solar energy to electrical power and then using that to generate heat, many solar water-heating systems use the heat of the sun directly to heat water. This is extremely efficient. It makes it highly accessible for micro farms, where budget is almost always an issue and where human capital, such as expertise in complex technologies, is very often in short supply. This can provide much needed hot water for cooking, cleaning, laundry and even radiant floor heating, whether in the house or the barn. It can also play an important role in keeping greenhouses warm at night while protecting them overheating during the day.

5. Food Processing

This is really a couple of technologies: solar dehydrators and solar ovens. In most cases, a solar dehydrator uses passive solar design. Thus, like solar water heaters, this is a relatively low-tech use of solar power, yet it can play a critical role on a micro farm. Some crops need to be dried before they can be sold. Other crops can be dried in order to increase their value, such as converting plums to prunes. Plus, solar ovens are making cooking easier and more environmentally friendly in remote areas.

The combination of off grid power, cell phones and distance learning is empowering rural communities like never before. Going back to the land no longer means being cut off from civilization.

Brigg Patten writes in the business and tech spaces. He's a fan of podcasts, bokeh and smooth jazz. His time is mostly spent learning the piano and watching his Golden Retriever Julian chase a stick.