How is Marrying Solar Farms and Agriculture Good for Ranchers and Farmers?

Insights from Silicon Ranch partner and regenerative rancher Trent Hendricks

Quick Summary

  • Co-locating regenerative ranching and solar farms keeps land in agricultural production 
  • Regenerative Energy’s marriage of managed sheep grazing and solar farms provides barrier-free access to land and opportunities to generate new revenue for experienced farmers and ranchers as well as aspiring agriculturalists and young family ranchers
  • Solar-ranching partnerships can help ranchers take advantage of the growing demand for lamb in the US 
  • The Regenerative Energy® platform offers ranchers and their children the “opportunity for fulfilling work, doing good things for the community and the larger world” 
Posted by Corinne Kocher and Chris Ann Lunghino | December 10, 2021
Trent Hendricks, Managing Partner at Cabriejo Ranch, was Silicon Ranch’s first regenerative rancher partner and has been integral to the development of the farmer-friendly and climate-smart Regenerative Energy® platform.

Trent and his family have holistically managed the land at our Regenerative Energy® projects in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas since the launch of the platform in 2019. As accredited Savory Holistic Management Professionals, Trent and his children also measure and track the health of the land over time usingSavory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification Methodology.

Trent brings a lifetime of learning, adapting, and responding to our mutual restoration-focused work. In a recent interview, Trent shared some of his story and his insights into the solar-regenerative ranching model. 

From an early age, Trent knew he wanted to devote his life to agriculture. He bought his first 50 breeding sheep and a ram when he was just 10 years old and has “been in sheep” ever since, including exploring veterinary studies and starting a trucking business to haul livestock.

The Savory Institute offers accreditation for professionals to become trainers and educators that teach holistic management and verify outcomes on land managed regeneratively. Its Ecological Outcome Verification Methodology was developed in collaboration with leading soil scientists, ecologists, agronomists, and an extensive network of regenerative land managers around the world. This methodology measures the health of the land as a living system.  

“I’m an unconventional student who loves to learn…”

For over 25 years, Trent, together with his family, has been operating various agricultural businesses, from developing and marketing an award-winning cheese, spawned by his research into raw goat milk as a treatment for his children’s chronic ear infections, to raising grass-fed sheep and cattle. The family behind Cabriejo Ranch interweaves skill sets and experiences that have prepared it perfectly for delivering regenerative agriculture operations on solar farms. And Trent sees even more opportunities for both the farm industry as a whole and his family via the partnership with Silicon Ranch.  

The Marriage of Regenerative Ranching and Solar Farms Is a Boon for Current and Next Generation Ranchers 

Getting into agriculture is too often an uphill battle. And even second or third generation farm kids can have a tough time making the economics of farming work. Looking back on his career in agriculture, Trent reflected on some of the structural challenges that face the next generation of new or young farmers.  

“How do we get young people and new people in new agricultural enterprises, when they are faced with needing to put in capital investment?” 

Without that capital, “It’s a daunting enterprise to enter into”, Trent said.  

Trent sees a significant opportunity with models like Silicon Ranch’s partnerships with regenerative ranchers, however. Solar-ranching partnerships provide both investment-free access to land and the cash flow to cover routing costs. As a rancher, “you can focus solely on financing the cost of animals,” he explained.  

This new kind of partnership can help existing and new farmers, right as “the US sheep and lamb industry is poised for growth,” Trent added. Lamb sales have been increasing in recent years, and disruptions in the beef supply chain during COVID-19 pushed even more lamb into retail stores.  

Although logistical, processing and distribution challenges in the food supply web persist, the solar industry can play a role in developing solutions. Retiring farmers and reduced access to public lands for grazing on the west coast of the US have reduced sheep flock sizes, Trent explained. Solar ranchers have an opportunity to fill this gap and build on the momentum in the lamb market

“Solar ranchers… could segue a significant portion of the sheep industry from public lands to solar farms…and build on momentum in the lamb market."

In other words, the partnerships between regenerative ranching and solar farms offer an opportunity for the sheep market to grow and meet demand — all while providing regenerative benefits to the land, environment, and local communities, such as improved soil health, soil carbon sequestration, cleaner water, and more resilient economies. 

The partnership between Silicon Ranch and Cabriejo Ranch showcases  the exciting opportunities for joining solar power with agricultural production. For Trent, however, the possibilities are also personal

 

The relationship with Silicon Ranch has allowed the Cabriejo Ranch family to “take an elevator, rather than climbing the steps” and to have opportunities for “fulfilling work, doing good things for the community and the larger world”

Before the partnership with Silicon Ranch, Trent’s two oldest children were considering what they would do for a career and looking for a project. And Trent ultimately wanted to help provide an opportunity for all six of his children, who have been home-schooled and trained in holistic management. He didn’t have the capital, however, to buy more land and equipment. Marrying regenerative ranching with solar farms changed all that, allowing Cabriejo Ranch to use the predictable cash flow to invest more strategically. 

Trent’s goal is to run a family business that is large enough that once his kids graduate, “if they want to be involved, they can be involved doing what they enjoy doing — whether that’s doing veterinary work, accounting, or driving a tractor.”

The family business is collaborative, Trent explained, with everyone discussing responsibilities, resources, and interests at family business meetings. “We try to foster leadership, letting the kids self-organize and cross-train each other,” said Trent. Each of the children take to different areas, ranging from taking care of the animals, focusing on plant life, or helping with logistics and equipment.  

Trent described Cabriejo’s partnership with Silicon Ranch as a kind of “elevator”. The family business was growing, he said, and they had strategic plans for the future. The relationship has allowed the family to now “take an elevator, rather than climbing the steps”

“I want my kids to see the opportunity to have fulfilling work, doing good things for the community and the larger world,” Trent concluded.  

Video and photo credit Rachel Hendricks, Cabriejo Ranch, LLC