Grass is greener for solar-powered sheep

  • Agribusiness

When a nearby solar farm told sixth generation wool farmer Tony Inder about the difficulties managing the cost of mowing the solar farm six times a year, Mr Inder said he had some hungry sheep that could do with some extra nourishment.

  • 30.05.2024
  • Time to read 1 min read
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Tall tales regularly get told in pubs around the country, but it’s rare when they involve agrivoltaics – the combination of agriculture and solar electricity generation – and lead to extraordinarily successful business outcomes.

Several years ago, a sixth-generation western NSW wool farmer Tony Inder was yarning over a beer with a Lightsource bp employee who worked at the Wellington solar farm, about 50kms south-east of Dubbo.

When the conversation turned to business, the Lightsource bp worker mentioned the burdensome cost of mowing the solar farm six times a year, prompting Mr Inder’s rejoinder that he had some hungry sheep that could do with some extra nourishment.

The solution of grazing 1700 merino sheep at the solar farm has yielded some surprising results over the last three years.

Lightsource bp – to be wholly owned by the oil and gas giant BP in the middle of this year after a deal closes to buy the half-share it doesn’t already own – now only needs to mow its solar farm twice a year, but the benefits for Mr Inder have been off the scale.

“We’ve found that any amount of rain is beneficial because there’s no gutter effect with the panels, so we’re continually getting growth,” he said.

“Our stocking rate is also going up and our wool quality has increased significantly, mainly, I think, because variable rain means our sheep can go from a lush feed to dried grass to standing hay up to six times a year, which means you can get breaks in your wool production and the tensile strength can be slightly weaker.

Mr Inder said the effect has been a lot better than he thought it would be.

“The sheep just do really well. I like to say that panel sheep are happy sheep.”

 Sixth-generation western NSW wool farmer Tony Inder

Mr Inder has conducted tests which show that fleece from his panel sheep is about 20 per cent superior to the normal product, measured by wool growth, weight and microns – the fibre diameter which is considered to be the most important of the fibre’s traits.

NAB Chair Philip Chronican, who visited the Wellington solar farm with Mr Inder, said the operation demonstrated it was possible to bring together a renewable energy project with traditional livestock management techniques to produce better outcomes.

“It’s great for the climate and great for the local community because there are massive employment opportunities, particularly in the construction phase (of the solar farm), but it also improves the traditional farm operation: there’s better quality grasses, better soil and better quality wool,” Mr Chronican said.

“So I think the opportunity (for NAB) is to take experiences like this and look at other regions where a similar opportunity exists to get a really good economic outcome.”

 

Mr Inder is a strong supporter of the pro-renewables group Farmers for Climate Action, which has 8000 members and 45,000 supporters who strongly argue that renewables are helping to save family farms by creating regular and ongoing income.

Solar panels, wind turbines and new transmission lines can not only generate income to help navigate droughts and flood, but they also enable farmers to keep working the land.

“I think the climate has been changing forever; your head’s in the sand if you don’t believe that because it’s changing as we speak, and I think renewables are the way to go,” Mr Inder said.

“I’d like to leave the world – hopefully not for a long time – knowing that I’ve done my bit for renewable energy.”

Mr Inder said NAB’s role in harder times has helped the farm get to the success it’s had today.

 

 

Read more about what NAB’s role in the transition to net-zero on the NAB News Climate page

Watch the full story about NSW wool farmer Tony Inder and his solar farm below.

 

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