Plummeting cranberry prices and the country’s ongoing trade wars have America’s cranberry industry eyeing a possible new savior: solar power.
Some cranberry farmers in Massachusetts, the nation’s second largest grower after Wisconsin, are proposing to build solar panels above the bogs they harvest each fall.
It’s a novel approach to blending renewable energy technology with traditional farming that has been researched across the world but not tried before on large-scale, commercial crop cultivation, according to solar power and agricultural industry experts. The basic idea is to build solar arrays high enough off the ground and in more spaced-out clusters to allow for crops to be safely grown and harvested underneath.
Cranberry farmers hope to shoulder lean times for their industry by gleaning extra revenue — in the form of long-term land leases with solar developers — while still producing the same quality berries they have for generations. An ongoing, nationwide study also suggests certain crops in particular climates can thrive under solar panels, though it’s unclear at this point how cranberries will fare.
Michael Wainio, a fourth-generation cranberry farmer, said he has sold off parts of his land, started a side business harvesting bogs for other growers, and launched a farm stand, deli and bakery operation in recent years to make ends meet.
“We’re doing everything we can to diversify, and it’s not enough,” he said. “If we don’t get this, I’d be surprised if we made it five years.”
Wainio is working with developer NextSun Energy on a project calling for roughly 27,000 solar panels over about 60 acres (24 hectares) of active bogs across three farms in Carver, near Cape Cod. The project would produce about 10 megawatts of energy, or roughly enough to power more than 1,600 homes, according to NextSun.