“As we look to expand agriculture in the north, we are looking at other opportunities to develop sustainable food systems.” Ganon said.
That is Glenna Gannon, research assistant professor at the Institute for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Extension. Gannon points to her work in Lower 48, which shows that some crops grow when combined with solar panels.
“And it may be a little counter-intuitive here, but it’s our desire to assess what the Alaskan farming system looks like.” Ganon said.
The plan is to monitor crop and solar cell performance on land in Houston, Alaska. Gannon works with another agricultural researcher, Jesse Young Robertson. However, the research is funded by a grant from the Department of Energy. Chris Pike, an energy scientist at the UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), is the lead on this project.
“So we’re going to use parts of this array to test different crops and see how those crops affect solar power and how solar panels affect crop production. I can.” Pike said.
A new 8.5 megawatt solar array has been installed by a company called Renewable IPP. They have just built a large solar power plant in nearby Willow, Alaska. But the one in Houston will be the largest solar installation in the state, according to ACEP.
While they monitor energy production, they also monitor the physiology of four crops important to Alaska.
“We look at floriculture, or flowers, in this case peonies, because the Alaska peony market has an export nature. It’s one of the largest crops in the area, vegetables and row crops, because, well, we all need to eat! “
Gannon said student farm trainees at Alaska Pacific University will also work on the project. Pike said data from the project will help develop similar systems around the world.
“If we can do something like this in a difficult place like Alaska, it gives us a good idea of how these systems work elsewhere.” Pike said.
Construction is complete and the first year’s crop is expected to be planted this summer.
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