I’ve so greatly appreciated the discussions and learning opportunities at meetings this past winter! We have one final cover crop meeting this Friday, Feb. 25 from 10-Noon at the 4-H Building in York. The topic is discussing the economics of cover crops. I’m often asked about this and have ideas, but don’t have answers, so am seeking a discussion around it. We know grazing often is the one way (not always, but often) where cover crops will pay. Looking forward to a deeper discussion on additional ways to look at economics of cover crops, such as assigning a dollar value to any soil changes over time. Please join us if you’re interested!
Estate Planning Workshop March 8: We’re excited to offer an estate planning workshop for farmers and ranchers from 1:30-4:00 p.m. on March 8 at the Seward County Extension Office (322 S. 14th St. in Seward). My colleague, Allan Vyhnalek, an extension educator for farm and ranch transition and succession, will offer tools and strategies to effectively plan, start and complete estate plans, offer background on common mistakes during the process, and highlight essential considerations for creating and carrying out estate and succession plans.
He also asked Tom Fehringer, an attorney based in Columbus, to present during the workshop. Fehringer specializes in estate planning, business planning and trust administration, among other areas of practice. It’s just a great opportunity to learn more and ask questions (especially of an attorney) for free! Please RSVP by March 7th at 402-643-2981.
K-Junction Solar Project Public Meeting Feb. 24: EDF Renewables is inviting the public to a meeting to learn more about the K-Junction Solar Project on Thursday, Feb. 24 from 5:00-7:30 p.m. at the Stone Creek Event Center in McCool Junction. Food and beverages will be provided.
Results of Xyway™ LFR® Fungicide in Furrow: Last week at the on-farm research update, three area farmers and I presented the results of our on-farm research Xyway™ LFR® studies. This fungicide, applied at planting, translocates within the plant providing disease protection for a period of time. In 2021, Xyway™ LFR® was tested at 8 on-farm locations in Buffalo, Hall, York, and Seward counties. Emergence counts taken at 4 locations in Buffalo/Hall counties showed better emergence with Xyway in one of the locations and slower emergence with Xyway in the other three locations. Early season stand counts were taken at all 8 locations. Of these, one location showed better stand with Xyway compared to the check, two showed less stand with Xyway, and the others showed no differences. Three of the 8 locations showed a yield reduction with Xyway compared to the check while the other five locations showed no difference. Half of the locations showed reduced profitability while there was no difference in the other half. At the two York locations, I also did disease ratings. In spite of it being a low-disease year, in one of the two locations, Xyway reduced gray leaf spot pressure on the plants compared to the check. At neither location was there a difference in overall southern rust severity. In general, the growers who tried this felt it was helpful from the standpoint their fields are near towns or powerlines where it’s difficult for arial applications. FMC recommended during the meeting to move the Xyway™ LFR® product away from the seed for those trying it in 2022.
Our Crop Science Investigation Youth (CSI) group worked with Jerry and Brian Stahr on their Xyway study as part of the Nebraska Corn Board’s Innovative Youth Challenge. It was a great way for youth to utilize the scientific method while learning about crop scouting and participating in on-farm research! The youth won first place and share their results in the following video: https://youtu.be/B87xqr0pWMk. If you know of youth interested in science and plants who may want to join us for CSI, please let me know! We meet monthly throughout the year. Next meeting is Mar. 15.
Leasing land for solar development is a topic landowners in the McCool Junction and Lushton area are facing. This is a guest column by my colleague John Hay, Nebraska Extension Energy Educator.
Renewable energy has increased significantly in recent years and the number of wind farms and size of wind turbines are a visual reminder of renewable development. Due to higher development cost, solar electric systems, also called solar photovoltaic (PV), have lagged in commercial electric development. In recent years, the dramatic price decline of solar PV has led to greater interest in utility scale solar development. For instance, consider a 5-Megawatt system similar to the one constructed West of Lincoln North of I-80. Based on solar cost benchmarks published by the National Renewable Energy Lab, a 5-Megawatt system constructed in 2010 would have cost $27.6 million dollars, compared to $5.65 million dollars to construct the same size project in 2018. Combine this with the 26% federal tax credit and the economics of utility scale solar are sufficient for major development interest across the nation. The federal tax credit is currently 26% and set to decline to 22% in 2021, then 10% for future years.
Utility scale solar farms are constructed on open ground generally near access to the electric transmission grid. Other considerations for siting solar farms may be the solar resource, proximity to electricity demand, other local incentives, and regional value of electricity. Access to land is an early step in utility scale solar development. Farmers and landowners in Nebraska are being approached to lease land for solar development and these landowners are facing important long-term decisions about the future of their land. When considering a solar leasing contract many factors should be considered. According to the Farmland Owner’s Guide to Solar Leasing published by the National Agricultural Law Center these considers are: Length of the commitment, Who has legal interests in the land?, Impacts on the farm and land, Family matters, Property taxes, Government programs, Liability and insurance, and Neighbor and community relations.
Utility solar farmland leases are long term contracts and need to be reviewed by a qualified attorney. In Nebraska these leases can be as many as 40 years and longer if extended. For many landowners this long-term contract may extend into the next generation and should be discussed with family. Landowners at times feel pressure to sign contracts and this can be stressful. Take the time to review and negotiate these contracts and always know that saying “no” is an option.
Solar leases can be attractive to landowners as they can offer long term income and profitability on the leased land. A study in Michigan of landowners with wind farm leases showed farmers with leases invested more in their farms than farmers without leases. This suggest the lease income may influence farm stability and longevity. Solar farms like wind farms add to county tax income. These developments are exempt from property tax and instead have a nameplate capacity tax paid each year in place of the property tax.
Utility scale solar farms are unlike wind farms in some ways. For example, wind turbines may take only 1-2 acres out of production per turbine because farmers can farm around the base of the turbine and turbine access road. In comparison, a 1,000 acre solar farm will take all 1,000 acres out of production. Solar farms are low to the ground and have less impact on the skyline. Generally solar farms will be fenced with vegetation growing amongst the solar panels. Vegetation could be perennial pollinators, grass, or weeds. Common management is periodic mowing to ensure plants do not disrupt solar operation and production.
Landowners approached about solar leases should seek advice from an attorney and take time to thoroughly consider the contract and its implications to their farmland. Review of the Farmland Owner’s Guide to Solar Leasing published by the National Agricultural Law Center will help frame the issues and considerations for solar leases. This can be found at: https://farmoffice.osu.edu/sites/aglaw/files/site-library/Farmland_Owner’s_Guide_to_Solar_Leasing.pdf. For additional questions about solar leasing, please see https://cropwatch.unl.edu/bioenergy/utility-scale-solar, or contact John Hay, Extension Educator at 402-472-0408 or email@example.com.