Solar farms are helping develop a new generation of farms that produce both food and energy, according to guidance published today by the National Farmers Union (NFU), the National Solar Centre (NSC) and the Solar Trade Association (STA).

The document, Agricultural Good Practice Guidance for Solar Farms, is intended to demonstrate best practice for coupling solar farms with conventional agriculture.

The NFU notes that solar farms are particularly suitable for free-range chickens and other poultry, but are ideally suited to the fattening of young ‘hill-bred’ lambs.

The rise of solar farm developments was described as a ‘lifeline’ to fellow farmers by Gilbert Churchill, whose farm added solar last year. He explained: “It’s environmentally friendly and it suits the farm industry very much because it gives a secure regular income. That’s very important to me and to other farmers as the industry is struggling at the moment to make ends meet. It’s a lifeline.”

The use of agricultural land for solar farm developments has come under some criticism from a number of local MPs, who have expressed concerns over the number and scale of PV projects being proposed under the renewable obligation.

Guy Smith, vice president of the NFU, explained why the construction of a solar farm does not mean that agricultural production has to stop. He said: “It is clear that renewable energy can support profitable farming, underpinning traditional agricultural production with additional returns that make businesses more resilient. This guidance document shows how solar farms can indeed be multifunctional, simultaneously meeting food and energy needs as well as enhancing biodiversity.

“Only a negligible land take is required to make a major contribution to Britain's clean energy needs, so the future looks bright for solar grazed lamb and free-range solar chicken.”

The guidance calculates that 95% of a solar farm site is still accessible to vegetation growth and agricultural use. The NFU notes that the solar farms do not require any reduction in stocking densities – having no effect on agricultural production.  

Commenting on the new guidelines, Leonie Greene, of the STA said: “This explains how to do free-range, home-grown solar at its best – a secure solution to Britain’s energy crisis that generates clean energy side-by-side with food production. That roast lamb Sunday lunch has just got a lot sunnier.

“Solar can actually increase security for our farmers, and this makes it even harder to understand why the government is proposing to deprive solar farms of resources compared to other low-carbon technologies.”

The report notes that the farmers that graze livestock on solar farms, if contracted in the right way, could be eligible to claim the basic payment under the Common Agricultural Policy. However, the document warns that the DEFRA is currently reviewing the eligibility of grazed solar farms.

The report can be viewed here.