Can solar and farming co-exist? Dutch trial hopes to prove a perfect match

Renew Economy
by Sophie Vorrath

Swedish multinational power company Vattenfall has unveiled plans to carry out a four-year pilot project in the Netherlands, looking at how a specially designed solar farm can be combined with Dutch strip farming practices.

The trial was announced by Vattenfall last week, off the back of the news that the company had received permission to test a combination of solar panels and organic crop cultivation at a site in Almere, east of Amsterdam, at a scale of around 700kW of PV capacity.

Vattenfall said it was working on the project with “other parties,” and with the backing of the Dutch government, to show how a combination of smart solar and farming practices could maintain land for food production – even improve it, ecologically – and deliver another income source for farmers.

The company said that findings of the so-called Symbizon project were particularly important to the Netherlands, where society “had reservations” about losing valuable agricultural land to solar generation – a concern that is starting to arise more often even in land-rich Australia.

“In the solar farm we alternate rows of panels with strips where various crops are grown for organic farming. This means that far fewer solar panels are being installed per hectare than is usual,” said Annemarie Schouten, Vattenfall’s head of solar development in the Netherlands.

“To ensure sufficient light yield, we use double-sided solar panels. They catch the reflected light from the soil, the crops and the adjacent rows and use it to produce solar energy. The panels also rotate with the sun to maximise yield.”

As part of the project, Vattenfall said a bespoke solar tracking algorithm was being developed by Dutch innovation outfit TNO, to track crop and energy yields and the effects of herb strips, weather forecasts, energy prices and soil conditions.

This algorithm would then be optimised, where possible, in cooperation with Vattenfall and Aeres University of Applied Sciences, a leading university of applied sciences for agribusiness and entrepreneurship in the Netherlands.

The impact of the solar tracking system on crop yield, diseases, and its ease of use for the farmer would be monitored by Aeres Hogeschool, ERF, a private organic farm in the Netherlands, and Hemus, an agricultural innovation outfit – both of which had extensive experience in strip farming.

Vattenfall’s Schouten said gaining approval for the pilot scheme by the Dutch government was a big step forward for the project, and that Vattenfall would now make a decision by the end of the year on its plans, with a possible start date in early 2022.

The trial coincides with the announcement of a much bigger “agrisolar” (or “agroenergy”) project in Europe – a plan to install 660MW of solar panels over 700 hectares of land in Serbia’s Vojvodina province, divided into seven zones for various organic crops.

The joint venture behind that project, Fintel Energija and agribusiness MK Group, say the project would install solar panels on around one-third of the total land area to generate about 832GWh a year, enough to supply 20,000 households, according to Balkan Green Energy News.

According to Fintel Energija and MK Group, combining solar panels with agricultural production creates a microclimate that increases the productivity of the crops and the efficiency of the energy production, while also further reducing emissions and water consumption for irrigation.

In Australia, the Clean Energy Council has called on the solar industry to work with Australian farmers to help solve the growing problem of grid access for new large-scale solar farms, as part of a recent paper published in promotion of agrisolar.

The push from the industry body comes as an increasing number of large-scale solar projects proposed for construction around the country meet opposition from locals over the loss of land previously used for farming or grazing.

The issue has become so prominent in Australia’s regional communities that the Country Women’s Association of Australia recently voted to call on governments to prevent solar farms from being developed in prime agricultural areas.

Like Vattenfall, the CEC paper argues that solar farms can improve both grazing and crop land, while allowing solar farms to be built in areas where the electricity network is strong, providing a win-win for both solar developers and farmers.

As RenewEconomy reported in March, the combination of solar farms with agriculture currently accounts for a small portion of Australia’s large-scale solar capacity: The CEC has identified 15 existing agrisolar projects totalling 1.1GW of capacity across Queensland, NSW and Victoria; the largest a 250MW project at Finley in southern NSW.

All of those projects, however, are “solar grazing”, the simplest form of agrisolar, which involves mixing mostly ground-mounted solar array with livestock – mostly sheep – grazing.

Livestock brands need to re-register

West Hawaii Today

Owners of livestock brands in Hawaii have until Dec. 31 to re-register their brands with the state Department of Agriculture or risk losing their rights to their brands.

Hawaii law requires owners of livestock in the state to register their brand to secure its validity and individuality. While it is not mandatory to use brands in Hawaii, it is mandatory for owners using brands to register them every five years. The registration fee is $10.

Between 2016 and 2020 there were 726 registered brands in the state.

Typically, cattle are branded prior to one year of age so owners have a permanent and unique identification on their animals that traces them back to their ownership. In Hawaii, there are about 1,100 cattle operations ranging from herds of about 25,000 head of cattle to those with just a few head.

For more information and applications, brand owners should contact the Animal Disease Control Branch at (808) 483-7106 or email hdoa.ldc@hawaii.gov. To obtain a brand registration form, visit http://hdoa.hawaii.gov/ai/files/2012/12/DC29.pdf

Under Mounting Pressure, Jones Act Lobby Claims the Law Is Cost‐​Free to Hawaii

Cato Institute
By Colin Grabow

Jones Act supporters in Hawaii can be forgiven for feeling a bit on edge these days. Last December Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), citing the Jones Act’s impact on the state’s cost of living, introduced three bills aimed at reforming the law. A May poll of state residents, meanwhile, found that, among those familiar with the Jones Act, a stunning 85 percent thought it should be repealed or changed. And just last month the Honolulu-based Grassroot Institute of Hawaii released a study placing the Jones Act’s annual cost to the state at $1.2 billion.

Amidst this mounting pressure the American Maritime Partnership (AMP), a pro-Jones Act lobbying group, has attempted to change the narrative with a new study of its own. Its conclusion: the Jones Act has no effect on the state’s sky-high cost of living.

It’s a claim that should be greeted with considerable skepticism.

Passed in 1920, the Jones Act restricts the domestic waterborne transportation of goods to vessels that are U.S.-registered and U.S.-built as well as mostly U.S.-owned and crewed. That is to say, over 99 percent of the world’s ships are off-limits for domestic transport. And those that can be used cost far more to build—4-5 times as much as those built in other countries—and have significantly higher crewing costs.

This combination of expensive ships and crew, along with reduced competition, inevitably leads to higher transportation costs. That’s no small thing for one of the most geographically isolated parts of the United States that imports most of what it consumes.

But setting aside these theoretical considerations, the report suffers from methodological issues that bring its conclusions into question. Its claims are largely based on an online survey of 200 items at four big-box retailers—Costco, Home Depot, Target and Walmart—in both Los Angeles (where Jones Act ships bound for Hawaii depart from) and Honolulu (where these ships arrive). These items are then placed into four categories consisting of groceries, durable and household goods, clothing, and building materials. A fifth category—automobiles—is also used, with prices sourced from Kelly Blue Book.

The average price difference for each of the five categories is then averaged together to establish an overall difference of less than one percent that the report describes as “virtually nil.”

The flaws in this approach are numerous and glaring. These include:

Cherry-picking: Deciding which items to compare on price can yield dramatically different results. For example, when one searches for “ice cream” at one of Walmart ‘s Honolulu stores, the first three results cost more than a Walmart in Los Angeles to the tune of 19 percent, 13 percent, and 79 percent. Yet the lone ice cream example used in the AMP study from Walmart shows a price difference of 0 percent. So why was this item chosen and not the others? The report does not say.

Use of online pricing: Although the AMP report’s approach of comparing prices online is certainly easier than canvassing the actual stores, it is less accurate. For example, the report found that an 18oz box of Cheerios cost $3.64 in both Los Angeles and Hawaii. But when the Grassroot Institute paid a visit to a Walmart in Honolulu they found the price to be $4.26—an amount 17 percent higher. Similarly, Wesson canola oil was found by the report to be identically priced in Los Angeles and Hawaii at $6.98. But while in-store visits found the online price to be accurate for Los Angeles, in Honolulu it was actually $9.64—38 percent higher.

Statistical sleight-of-hand: Despite the lack of insight into how items were selected and the flawed use of online prices, the report still finds that grocery items in Honolulu cost 2.4 percent more than in Los Angeles. However, the report also found minimal cost differences across the four other categories. After averaging these five categories together the report finds a total cost difference of a mere 0.51 percent.

This approach makes little sense. Why should each category be equally weighted when Hawaii residents spend far more on some types of items than others? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18.1 percent of expenditures by Honolulu consumers in 2017-18 was on food compared to a mere 2.7 percent on apparel and services. So why are grocery and clothing (or any other category for that matter) averaged together on an equal basis when one is far more consequential for consumers than the other?

Failure to isolate the dependent variable: Comparing items in Los Angeles and Hawaii is an interesting exercise, but it tells us little about the impact of Jones Act shipping on retail prices as a plethora of other factors figure here too. As the AMP study itself concedes, “there are many other factors that impact the price of goods in Hawaii beyond the Jones Act.” This is essentially an admission that price comparisons are a faulty means of gauging the Jones Act’s impact to consumers.

These are only some of the report’s more egregious flaws. In addition, it suffers from numerous other shortcomings that merit attention. Among them:

  • The report only examines prices at big-box retailers whose volume allows them to negotiate discounted rates with Jones Act shipping companies. There is little reason to think the impact of shipping on their prices should be seen as representative of other Hawaii retailers.
  • Citing a 2011 Maritime Administration (MARAD) report, the study states that, in the Jones Act’s absence, foreign ships engaged in domestic transport would have to comply with all U.S. work rules and manning requirements. This, in turn, would dramatically drive up their labor costs. In fact, the cited MARAD report makes no pronouncement about which U.S laws foreign ships may have to comply with if allowed to engage in domestic transport.
  • The study states that approximately 13,000 Hawaii residents are employed in the domestic maritime industry, with such jobs contributing to an overall economic impact of $3.3 billion to the Hawaii economy. The source for this claim is a study produced by a pro-Jones Act group that has never been made publicly available, and thus cannot be scrutinized.

The report’s most profound weakness, however, is a more subtle and less obvious one. Despite its title, “Impact of the U.S. Jones Act on Hawaii,” the report comes nowhere close to properly performing such an analysis.

A common misperception of the Jones Act is that its cost is the difference between freight rates offered by Jones Act ships and non-Jones Act ships. But this only scratches the surface. The actual cost of the Jones Act is the difference between what Hawaii (or the United States) looks like without the law compared to what it looks with it in place. It is in many ways a study in opportunity costs. This is something the AMP report entirely fails to wrestle with.

So what would Hawaii look like without the Jones Act? The following are some changes one might see:

  • Ranchers in the state could end their use of container ships (and even airplanes) to send cattle to the mainland, instead transporting them more efficiently with livestock carriers (a ship type not found in the Jones Act fleet) to boost their competitiveness. Other exporters in the state, such as the Kōloa Rum Company, could use capital freed up through reduced shipping expenses to expand their businesses.
  • Hawaii meets much of its energy needs from abroad rather than domestically to help avoid the high cost of Jones Act transport. But in the Jones Act’s absence, the door would be opened to purchasing a variety of energy sources from the U.S. mainland at even lower cost. Cheaper jet fuel, for example, would reduce the cost of visiting Hawaii and travel between its islands, providing a boon to tourism. Sourcing more crude oil from the U.S. mainland—instead of Pacific Rim producers including Russia, as well as from Africa and the Middle East—could also help lower the cost of locally refined products. Cheaper petroleum, relied upon for approximately 69 percent of Hawaii’s electricity generation, could help reduce electricity rates that are the country’s highest.
  • The United States is the world’s leading exporter of both sand and asphalt. Hawaii, however, purchases the former from Canada and the latter from China among other countries. In the case of asphalt, buying from the mainland is not even an option as the Jones Act fleet lacks dedicated asphalt/bitumen tankers to transport it. Access to cheaper U.S. sand and asphalt could lower the cost of construction and boost the quality of Hawaii’s infrastructure (the country’s second-worst according to one analysis).
  • An estimated 80 percent of Hawaii’s food imports come from the U.S. mainland, subjecting it to expensive Jones Act transportation. Removal of the Jones Act would lead to less expensive food, benefitting not only consumers but a restaurant industry that is responsible for 13 percent of state employment.

This is not a comprehensive list of the benefits that might be realized, but a mere sampling of the thinking one must engage in to properly understand the cost of the Jones Act. Unfortunately, such a line of inquiry is not found in the AMP report. And even its attempt to establish the Jones Act’s direct cost to consumers is fatally flawed due to numerous methodological errors. The report might provide new talking points for the Jones Act lobby, but it should not be regarded as a serious piece of economic analysis. For that, one must look elsewhere.

Deadly pig virus jumps to Hawaii, animal feed tested

fox

Hawaii has identified its first outbreak of a deadly pig virus that emerged in the continental United States last year, confounding officials who are uncertain how the disease arrived over thousands of miles of ocean.

The state confirmed Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) on a farm on Oahu, the most populous Hawaiian island, on Nov. 20, according to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

Farmers and the federal government have been working to contain PEDv since it was first detected in the United States in the spring of 2013. The virus has killed at least 8 million pigs, roughly 10 percent of the U.S. hog population. PEDv was previously found in parts of Asia and Europe. It is unknown how it came to the United States.

Hawaii had toughened import requirements for live pigs in July in a bid to prevent the spread of PEDv, banning infected hogs and requiring tests for PEDv prior to shipping.

State officials do not know how PEDv arrived on their shores and are testing animal feed from the infected farm to try to determine whether it may have transmitted the virus, acting State Veterinarian Isaac Maeda said in a telephone interview Monday.

“We live out in the ocean,” Maeda said. “A lot of things you see on the continental U.S., we don’t see out here.”

Chances of determining how PEDv arrived in Hawaii are “not looking very promising,” he added.

The outbreak occurred on a farm with about 150 pigs, and about 25 percent died, according to Hawaii’s agriculture department. Veterinarians sent samples from the farm to the Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which confirmed the PEDv infection.

“It was surprising because it was a long distance from your traditional swine channels,” Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, said about the outbreak.

The farm did not use feed containing porcine plasma, which has been suspected of spreading PEDv, Maeda said.

This Thursday-Sunday, July 3-6: Makawo Rodeo & Paniolo Parade

mauivents

Saddle up for the 59th Annual Makawao Rodeo (July 3-6) and the 49th Annual Makawao Paniolo Parade (July 5). The Rodeo never ceases to entertain with four full days of qualifying rounds, bull-riding, team-roping, mugging, barrel racing and more. Friday’s Bull Bash will amp the crowd for Saturday’s Colorful Hawaiian Style Parade (9am-11pm), complete with rodeo royalty, pa’u riders, classic cars, cowboys, cowgirls and local celebrities. Park at the Oskie Rice Arena Rodeo Grounds and take the free shuttle to the parade (7-9am) and then back to the rodeo grounds(11:30am). Rodeo: $15 Adults, $10 Seniors, Students, $5 Kids. Oskie Rice Arena (Olinda Rd., Makawao), mauimapp.com/rodeo.htm

This Thursday-Sunday, July 3-6: Makawo Rodeo & Paniolo Parade | mauivents.com

Cowboy Fun: Rodeos and Polo

Paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) show off their skills at three major annual events: the Piiholo Cowboy Classic in September; the Oskie Rice Memorial Rodeo in December; and Maui’s biggest event, the 4th of July Rodeo, which comes with a full parade in Makawao town and festivities that last for days.

Polo is popular with the Upcountry paniolos. From April through June, Haleakala Ranch hosts “indoor” or arena contests on a field flanked by side boards. The field is on Route 377, 1 mile from Route 37. During the “outdoor” polo season, September to mid-November, matches are held at Olinda Field, 1 mile above Makawao on Olinda Road. There’s a $5 admission for most games, which start at 1:30 pm on Sunday.

Manduke Baldwin Memorial Tournament. Held over Memorial Day weekend, the Manduke Baldwin Memorial Tournament is a popular two-day polo event. It draws challengers from Argentina, England, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. 808/877–7744. www.mauipoloclub.com.

Cowboy Fun: Rodeos and Polo – Maui | Fodor’s

Maui Roping Club & Auxiliary Presents the 2014 Makawao Rodeo Queen and Princess Contest

queen

Date: 5/10/2014
Time: 4pm

Queen: 18- 25 Yrs. Old. has never held the title of Makawao Rodeo Queen.

  • Must be able to participate in the upcoming parades and attend the Makawao Rodeo and parade.
  • Must be able to do radio announcements and sponsor appearance.
  • Must ONLY enter 1 rodeo event at the 4th of July rodeo. Must be in good health
Princess: 15 – 17 Yrs. Old. has never held the title of Makawao Rodeo Queen or Princess.

  • Must be able to participate in the upcoming parades and attend the Makawao Rodeo and parade.
  • Must be able to do radio announcements and sponsor appearance.
  • Must ONLY enter 1 rodeo event at the 4th of July rodeo. Must be in good health
For More information, Please contact Maui Roping Club Auxiliary President Deidra Lopes @ 298-1310 or Royal Court Coordinator Kathleen Birmingham @ 283-4615 Applications are due May 2, 2014

U.S. bacon prices rise after virus kills baby pigs

MILWAUKEE >> A virus never before seen in the U.S. has killed millions of baby pigs in less than a year, and with little known about how it spreads or how to stop it, it’s threatening pork production and pushing up prices by 10 percent or more.

Estimates vary, but one economist believes case data indicate more than 6 million piglets in 27 states have died since porcine epidemic diarrhea showed up in the U.S. last May. A more conservative estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the nation’s pig herd has shrunk at least 3 percent to about 63 million pigs since the disease appeared.

Scientists think the virus, which does not infect humans or other animals, came from China, but they don’t know how it got into the country. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry, wary of future outbreaks, has committed $1.7 million to research the disease.

The U.S. is both a top producer and exporter of pork, but production could decline about 7 percent this year compared to last — the biggest drop in more than 30 years, according to a recent report from Rabobank, which focuses on the food, beverage and agribusiness industries.

Already, prices have shot up: A pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, 13 percent more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Farming pioneer awarded

masthead-main

LAKE EPPALOCK farmer Darren Doherty has been commended by the Hawaiian Government for his leadership in ecological agriculture systems around the world.

Regenerative agriculture I would describe as ‘beyond sustainable’ agriculture. – Darren Doherty

Mr Doherty, who runs a global “regenerative agriculture” business with wife Lisa Heenan, was recognised by the Hawaiian Senate after he delivered a series of talks in the Hawaiian Islands two weeks ago.

Mr Doherty spoke to large landholders in Hawaii about how they could make their farms more sustainable by changing grazing and cropping practices, value-adding and integrating forestry.

The talks were well-received, Mr Doherty said, but he was taken aback when Senator Mike Gabbard officially commended him for his work.

“As a rural Australian I am pretty bashful about that sort of thing, but on reflection I guess what we are on about is starting to come of age,” the fifth-generation Bendigo farmer said yesterday.

HeenanDoherty Pty Ltd’s mission is to “maintain creative, intergenerational family and community lives built around regenerative and profitable production, management and educational systems”.

For 20 years Mr Doherty has run talks and designed more than 1600 mostly broadacre projects in 45 countries, and is regarded as a pioneer in the regenerative retrofit of broadacre landscapes.

It’s not just about sustainability, he says.

“Simply sustaining something is lacking in ambition.

“Regenerative agriculture I would describe as ‘beyond sustainable’ agriculture.

“Sustainability is energy-in, energy-out, whereas regenerative agriculture is, ‘things are getting better as a result of what you are doing.’”