The Power of Ag
Farm Credit Midsouth Members Are Harnessing Solar Energy in Lake City
You may remember reading in these pages last year about the construction of a first-of-its-kind project in Northeast Arkansas. Lake City’s Delta Farms and Southland Gin, along with Craighead Electric Cooperative, partnered with Today’s Power Inc. (TPI) to build a three-pronged farm solar energy project incorporating two different energy technologies along with battery storage capabilities. In this issue, we’re checking in with the folks at Delta Farms to see how goes the solar venture now that it is up, running and powering their huge operation.
We had the pleasure of visiting Delta Farms on a beautiful day this spring where we were treated to a tour of the operation and had a chance to catch up with its four owners, Len Nall, Gregg Garner, Aaron Garner and Blake Robertson. Together the partnership raises cotton, corn, peanuts, rice and soybeans on about 18,000 acres in Lake City. They also operate Southland Gin, a nearby cotton gin.
We spent the day capturing some amazing footage—which you can see by heading over and checking out the Delta Farms’ Member Minutes episode in the video gallery on our website—and discussing their use of solar energy and the impact it’s having on their bottom line.
First, a Little Background
Delta Farms has been a longtime Farm Credit Midsouth Member, so when the group approached Farm Credit about financing what was admittedly an unconventional project, the Farm Credit team listened. The partners put together a comprehensive plan outlining the operation’s energy demands and how the costs could be offset by solar.
“Farm Credit understands ag,” noted Len. “And they understand how we work. They have always been receptive to our goals, more so than any other lending institution. Justin (Griffin, Farm Credit Midsouth Senior Loan Officer) has been by our side the whole way. It was helpful that he understands our operation the way he does.”
“We’re a large operation with a lot of irons in the fire,” added Gregg. “That requires a lot of resources.”
With a solid plan and financing in place, the team joined up with Today’s Power, Inc. to build on 14.59 acres of land. The solar field was designed to provide clean energy for both the Delta Farm and Southland Gin facilities and will continue to do so over the next 20 years.
From planting cover crops and crop rotation to conservation tillage, alternative energy use, and other regenerative practices, today more than ever before farmers are implementing environmentally sustainable practices that benefit their farms, the land they operate, their local communities and make agriculture more resilient to climate risks. Farm Credit associations around the country are supporting producers in their innovative Climate Smart Ag efforts. This financing request was an extraordinary opportunity for Farm Credit Midsouth in that regard.
“Solar was an intriguing option to reduce our energy impact,” said Gregg. “We have a lot of electricity needs on our farm—irrigation, grain bins, and the shop. We felt like solar could be a good option for us.”
Turns out, they were right. They committed to the project and, now up and running, it is generating enough electricity to power the electrical consumption of Delta Farms, Southland Gin, and then some.
For the Delta Farms team, if the project does nothing more than pay for itself, that’s enough.
“We don’t know that it will save us any money in the long run,” said Len. “But it won’t cost us anything either. We’re trying to do our part to conserve energy and protect the environment.”
Without hesitation, he recommends other growers check into whether it could be a viable option on their own farms. While it may be the case that it might not be affordable for every row crop producer, the investment may be worth it for a group of farmers to pool their resources.
“Most older farmers don’t really like change,” adds Gregg, speaking with understanding. “But being able to accept that change and being willing to try new is what has helped us get to where we are today.”
Not Without Challenges
The implementation of solar energy production has been a complete success for Delta Farms. But they’re still facing some of the same challenges as their fellow producers.
“The biggest challenge we face as farmers is misunderstanding,” said Blake. He went on to explain that people don’t really understand the farmers’ impact on the world population or where their food and fiber comes from.
“We’re here to provide safe, affordable food and fiber for the entire country,” he added. That’s no small feat. But the partners will continue to educate and do their best to lead by example, which is one reason their implementation of solar power was so important.
In The End
Len, Gregg, Blake and Aaron were eager to embark on this solar adventure, and never doubted its eventual success. In wrapping things up, they offered this message: “Here’s our story. This is what we’ll do. What will you do?”