GELSDORF, Germany (AP) — It’s picking season at Christian Nachtwey’s organic orchard in western Germany and workers are loading their carts with ripe red Elstar apples, ready for shipment to European supermarkets.
But Nachtwey Farm is also reaping a second harvest: many apple trees grow under solar panels which produced abundant electricity during this year’s unusually sunny summer, while providing the fruit below with shade which they so badly need.
“The idea is simple,” said Nachtwey, whose farm is in Gelsdorf, an hour’s drive south of Cologne. “Protect the orchard, without reducing the available cultivation area and above all maintain production. In addition to this, there is solar electricity produced on the same plot.
Large-scale solar installations on arable land are becoming increasingly popular in Europe and North America as farmers seek to make the most of their land and establish a second source of income.
However, getting the right mix of crops and solar energy is difficult, as modern fruit varieties are perfectly adapted to particular growing conditions. Any change can tip the scales and cost farmers income if their fruit is damaged, the wrong color or not as sweet as consumers want it.
That’s why Nachtwey is collaborating with researchers to test which apple varieties thrive under the solar canopy and which types of photovoltaic roofs are best suited to the orchard. To compare the results, some trees are covered with a conventional net normally used to protect sensitive crops from hail.
Juergen Zimmer, an expert from the Rhineland-Palatinate state agricultural service department, said apples grown under solar roofs were slightly less sweet this year than those under hail nets. But hardly any of the apples in the shade of the sun were damaged by the intense sunlight that hit the region on July 24 this year, when up to 18% of the uncovered fruit suffered sunburn. sun that day, he said.
“We need at least two to three full years to record any weather conditions that might occur and look at the yield and color produced by the different tree varieties,” Zimmer said.
Researchers hope the tests will show that fruit tree crops thrive under solar panels. This could help prevent renewable energy production from competing with agriculture for valuable land, a growing concern for those seeking to tackle climate change and rising food prices.
Nachtwey said he could use solar electricity generated on the farm to power his own plant and machinery. But to start, he plans instead to supply electricity to dozens of nearby homes.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
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