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Prairie Farmer asked readers what they thought about solar farms and land use in Illinois; here’s what they have to say.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

December 22, 2021

5 Min Read
solar panels
LAND USE: What’s the best use of farmland in Illinois? Readers respond.Sierra Day

Prairie Farmer recently published an opinion column on solar farms in Illinois, Will solar destroy the land or conserve the land? Knowing readers would have opinions on the topic, we invited them to respond and share their thoughts. And boy, have they. While the piece we published focuses on farmland in Illinois, readers from all over the country responded.

We’ll publish many of those responses in the magazine over the next few months, but in the meantime, we’re using this page as a repository for all the responses, in their entirety. Check back throughout the coming weeks as we’ll continue to add letters to this page. And if you’d like to respond with your thoughts on whether solar farms will destroy or conserve farmland, please email [email protected].


In your article, the implication is that the land used for ethanol will be repurposed for solar. Is there any guarantee that only energy crops will decrease for solar, or will it affect the cost of food too?

Kyle League,
Bruce, Miss.

I believe solar farming is, as your article points out, an extension of the farmer’s role in capturing energy from the sun — a great way to give your soil a rest, rebuild soil foundations, and with less corn and bean acreage, should help keep prices firmer.

I tried to put 40 acres of good black central Illinois dirt into a solar farm last year and couldn’t get zoning approved.

Dean Robert,
Rochester, Ill.

Good issue to discuss. The renewable energy boom is either a boon to some or a boondoggle to others. The billions of dollars being spent on renewable energy today is causing disruptions in the ag economy that we are still trying to understand.

I’m a trustee for the Sangamon Conservancy Trust, which is a land trust established in 2000 to protect prime farmland in Sangamon County [Ill.] and surrounding counties. We testified against the siting of the two Sangamon County solar farms because of the negative impact on prime farmland and the lack of responsible zoning criteria for industrial-sized projects.

Our board is currently working with the local Farm Bureau and the county board to tweak current zoning requirements to encourage future solar projects be sited in more marginal lands. We believe there needs to be a cap on the number of acres devoted to solar projects in the county. Our trust’s bylaws prohibit wind and solar energy projects on acreage we currently have a conservation easement on.

My farm in eastern Sangamon County is located near an operational wind farm and another prospective wind/solar project. I have personally been solicited by energy companies to participate, but I have refused despite lucrative financial offers.

My objections to these projects include:

  • Once prime farmland is converted to power production, it likely will never be restored to its original productivity despite promises to do so.

  • There is a finite supply of Class A (125+ PI) farmland available in the Midwest. Renewable energy projects should be sited in less productive areas.

  • Fewer acres available for farming will likely increase cash rents and land values for the remaining acres in a county. That means less opportunities for young people wanting to enter farming.

  • Uncertainty over potential pollution problems (recycling panels and heavy metals) with current solar technology.

John Hawkins,
Buffalo, Ill.

That was a good article, but you missed some important facts. First, the leases don’t pay if there is no production, no 20-year guarantee. Second, when the supports are driven into the ground, no one cares about the tile systems. Even though they say they will protect the tile, they just want to get the job done. Third, the solar farms need driveways so their maintenance equipment can get around when the ground is muddy. There will be many miles of stone driveways, and often the topsoil is removed to construct them.

Fourth, according to a Minnesota appeals court ruling from August, a gas-fired power plant is more economical and better for the environment than solar or wind because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, making the power company buy more expensive electricity on the grid. This was a victory for science — not politics masquerading as science. I hope this helps you understand the rest of the story. Thanks for caring.

Lanny Boes, 
Fostoria, Ohio 

Nice article, hopefully it will serve its intentions of getting people to think. Personally, I am very much against solar in my region of western New York. We get as many cloudy/snowy days as any area in the country other than maybe Seattle. I often see industrial solar panels with snow covering them for days on end.

Solar panels also create an impervious surface that will concentrate rainfall at the bottom of the panels. Think of what sodded soil looks like under barn roof eaves. There will no doubt be more runoff from these solar farms.

One of the biggest concerns I have with the projects is that the developer will declare bankruptcy without having a legitimate bond and then the landowner will let the property go back on taxes to the county without ever having decommissioned or restored the land.

When the question about who is responsible for decommissioning is posed at meetings or addressed in informational literature, it is stated that a landowner should consult an attorney to protect themselves. However, in the situation I just described, it is the local taxpayers, neighbors and the county that will ultimately be left in possession of what is now basically a brownfield.

We the public have the risk, not the landowner. The landowner will have collected, according to reports, around $1,000 per acre annually. He has more than recouped the value of the land and has no incentive to engage in a costly cleanup.

There is also the effect on the local agricultural community. Less land being farmed results in higher competition for the remaining land; the farmer who leased land for solar has an infusion of cash to bid on land against his neighbor who just wants to farm. Less land means a loss of potential customers for ag support services.

The unintended consequences in rural neighborhoods is huge, and all for a technology that is questionable from an energy and environmental standpoint and couldn’t stand on its own without vast subsidies. 

So my answer is yes, solar destroys farmland and farm communities.

Dan Steward,
Ellington, N.Y.

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About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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