At first glance, you might have wondered why a field of solar panels would wind up as the cover photo of this month's issue. How could these space-age contraptions remotely affect how a cotton crop is produced in any part of the country? That would have been a legitimate question. However, before you completely write off this idea as being too futuristic, take another look. That's what folks here in the Mid-South are doing after they witnessed the dedication of a new solar farm at Agricenter International in Memphis, Tenn., a few weeks ago.
The fact is, solar and wind energy are being touted in many circles as the future answer to how a farming operation can cut its energy bill. Granted, a research farm at the Agricenter might not be the exact replica of your average cotton farm in Mississippi or California. But the management of the Agricenter is excited that the 4,160 solar panels will generate 1.6 gigawatt hours each year or enough energy to power 107 homes for 12 months.
The solar farm is owned by LightWave Solar and has been integrated into the power grid of Memphis Light Gas and Water and the Tennessee Valley Authority. After observing this experiment for 10 years, the Agricenter will then decide if it wants to purchase the solar farm and take the next step with this new technology.
In our cover story on pages 8 and 9, several experts weigh in on the potential for solar and wind energy for agriculture. You'll find comments from Agricenter president John Charles Wilson, Mississippi producer Kenneth Hood, Texas AgriLife Extension engineer Dana Porter and USDA-ARS research engineer Bryan Vick. All are optimistic about how these new energy sources can have practical applications for a cotton farm or gin. It's simply a question of what the farm's financial situation is right now. Some farmers simply aren't in a position to make such a purchase.
Hood, who has embraced all kinds of ag technology in his farming career, is more interested in wind turbines at the moment. He thinks that has a better fit for his farm, but he has an open mind about the discussion.
In Brent Murphree's Western Report on page 6, you'll find a different perspective. Producers and ginners in that region are once again open to the idea of new energy sources, but they can't afford such a big investment now. If cotton prices were better, the mood might be different.
What's the takeaway message here? Solar and wind energy have exciting potential for agriculture. It's just a queston of timing. Someday, we might even see wind turbines and solar panels become commonplace on all farms.If that happens, it will be another victory for ag technology.
If you have comments, send them to: Editor, Cotton Farming Magazine, 1010 June Road, Suite 102, Memphis, Tenn., 38119. Or send e-mail to: