American Farmland Trust Urges Congress to Advance Smart Solar Policy in the Next Farm Bill - American Farmland Trust

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American Farmland Trust Urges Congress to Advance Smart Solar Policy in the Next Farm Bill 

Washington, D.C. Today, AFT released its recommendations to Congress to advance a Smart Solar buildout that benefits farm communities in the next Farm Bill.  

According to the Department of Energy, achieving the goal of a decarbonized electric sector by 2050 will require converting 10.4 million acres of land to solar energy generation. Farmland is often favored by solar developers, particularly high-quality farmland, because it is flat, sunny, cleared, and near energy infrastructure. In fact, recent AFT modeling revealed that 83% of new solar energy development is likely to take place on farmland if additional policy steps are not taken, with half of that on the nation’s best land for producing food and crops.  

“The key question for our national solar buildout is not ‘if,’ but ‘how,’” said AFT Policy Director Tim Fink. “The decisions we make today on how we achieve this critical climate goal will determine whether it strengthens rural communities and protects our best agricultural land for future generations or results in large-scale permanent conversion of productive agricultural land.” 

Solar development presents an opportunity for some landowners to receive steady, long-term lease payments, but concern over prime farmland conversion, land affordability and availability, and the overall impact of large-scale solar development is slowing the transition to renewable energy and could pose a long-term threat to rural livelihoods and landscapes. American Farmland Trust’s Farm Bill platform—and solar work more generally—aims to maximize benefits to farmers, farmland, and rural communities.  

“While most solar siting decisions are made at the local level, the federal government—especially USDA—has an important role to play in providing national leadership to ensure rural communities benefit from this energy transition,” said AFT Conservation and Climate Policy Manager Samantha Levy. “Through the Farm Bill, Congress can direct USDA to model smart solar siting for the nation and produce the research and guidance needed to inform landowners, developers, and policymakers at all levels.”  

Years of experience working in communities to answer questions about renewable energy siting led AFT to form a framework to guide decision makers on implementing a solar buildout that strengthens farm communities. These four smart solar principles are: 

  • Prioritize siting on the built environment and marginal land 
  • Safeguard the ability for land to be used for agriculture 
  • Grow agrivoltaics for agricultural production and solar energy 
  • Promote equity and farm viability 

AFT’s Farm Bill smart solar platform urges Congress to direct and empower USDA agencies – including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, and research agencies – to provide the guidance, support, and leadership that will enable local decision makers to put these principles into action. Specifically, the platform recommends that Congress direct USDA to develop guidance to ensure that land converted to solar can be returned to agricultural use, that the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) serve as a model for Smart Solar deployment, and that additional research be conducted, including how best to incorporate solar into agricultural operations (agrivoltaics) and what the economic and social impacts of solar will be. It also recommends that the Farmland Protection Policy Act be strengthened to better track conversion of agricultural land to solar development and prevent the loss of our most productive, farmland to federally-funded utility-scale solar projects.  

“Farmers and ranchers will play an outsized role in this energy transition,” said Levy. “USDA has an opportunity to ensure that the communities it serves are a key part of this discussion, and to lead in answering the very questions halting the renewable energy buildout that is so critical to our future.”  

AFT’s solar platform is part of a broader Farm Bill policy agenda that includes critical policies to protect farmland, support long term adoption of conservation practices, and help current and aspiring producers run viable operations and access land.  


American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.  

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