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Sweet sheep |  Journalism

Sweet sheep | Journalism

(Strathmore, Alberta) “The sheep here have been giving birth to their lambs in recent days. “They're all standing together in the same half of the pen because they've just been sheared,” explains Jana Greer, showing us her pen.

Two days ago, the temperature was around 20 degrees Celsius at Whispering Cedars Ranch. Ideal for the annual shearing of the 600 sheep that MI Greer and her husband grew up near Strathmore, about 60 kilometers east of Calgary.

But at the time of our visit, the snow was falling in large flakes. Nothing like what happened in Quebec, where, on April 4, more than 400,000 customers suffered power outages. But it's enough that we just talk about it on the radio.

The animators are trying to see the glass as half full: It will go some way to making up for a winter with little snow, which has raised fears of another summer of drought in southern Alberta.

Deloitte announced in a report released the previous day that water shortages could even affect oil and gas production. Deloitte warned that at least one region has already banned the use of its treated water in the fracking process, and others may follow.

Manage gossip

Next month, the farm's sheep will take a small truck ride to a different kind of farm – a “solar farm”, as we call it here the vast parks of photovoltaic panels that have multiplied in just a few years in the south of the country. boycott.

Capital Power image via Reuters

Strathmore Solar Park in 2022, the year it enters service

Located less than 10 minutes from the farm, Strathmore Solar Park features more than 109,000 panels spread across 320 acres. The 600 ewes and their lambs, or 1,500 to 1,800 animals in total, will graze peacefully there until November.

“People say: 'It's great, you're looking after your sheep,' but it's more than that!”, emphasizes M.I Jarir.

Photo courtesy of Jana Greer

Jana Greer, co-owner of Whispering Cedars Ranch and agriculture consultant

It is a managed grazing routine, with the goal of improving the soil and terrain over time.

Jana Greer, co-owner of Whispering Cedars Ranch and agriculture consultant

Once the panels are installed, solar park owners must reforest the site left as dirt by the construction site. These plants must then be kept short to maximize energy production and prevent fire risks.

When the farm showed its sheep to the owners of the solar farm, Capital Power, “they thought it was a little crazy at first, but [les deux parties ont] “I developed an extraordinary partnership.”

She says sheep offer many advantages.

Photos from the WHISPERING CEDARS RANCH Facebook page

These two images taken in May 2023 show the contrast between two areas of the solar park, one grazed by sheep last summer and the other not. The grazed grass that benefits from sheep manure is “lush,” while the grass in the ungrazed section is “dull, loose and lacking in nutrients,” explains Jana Greer, noting that no filter was added to the images.

[Les moutons] If you leave the manure behind, the vegetation becomes more diverse, and you can't ride big tractors that burn fossil fuels.

Jana Greer, co-owner of Whispering Cedars Ranch and agriculture consultant

This is the third year that the farm has used the services of its herd.

“We try to keep it a little cheaper than machine cutting, at about 80 to 85 percent of the cost, so they can say to themselves: ‘This is exciting!’ We save less, and we do better for the environment.”

White sheep add a rustic touch to the site, but they have their requirements.

Since traditional grass is not nutritious enough, a mixture of grasses and legumes should be planted at least a year in advance. Without forgetting the water that must be brought every day.

“If you leave the sheep free to go anywhere, they will eat the most desirable plants and leave the rest behind.”

To ensure effective vegetation control, the animals are herded into an area of ​​about one acre surrounded by electrified fences, which have to be moved almost every day. A small trailer covered with solar panels provides the power needed to power the fences and the few tools used in finishing.

In the shade of solar panels

The garden's solar modules provide valuable shelter for both sheep and plants.

“Unlike here [au ranch]“Where everything is drier and more exposed to the elements, the grass in the shade of the panels thrives.”I Jarir.

Using the solar garden also allows the couple to have more animals than they could feed on their land alone.

This is called Agrivoltaism, and is a combination of agriculture and photovoltaic panels.

Experimental crops of lettuce, cauliflower, wheat and other edible plants also got better yields under solar panels, Canadian researchers reported in the journal.Sustainability last year.

Since Alberta clamped down on renewable energy promoters at the end of February, agribusiness has generated a lot of interest, as M. can attest.I Greir, which also provides consulting services.

“Companies I had already spoken to and was a bit hesitant quickly stepped up and asked me how to proceed.”

Agricultural agriculture offers the possibility of a constructive response to those who fear seeing solar panels monopolize the province's lands and pastures.

For example, the Aira Solar project, with its 1.1 million panels in Forty Mile District No. 8, in the county's southeast, drew fierce opposition from Farmers and Ranchers Against Solar during its introduction in 2022. The developer has made several commitments, including considering sheep to control weeds. The project was finally approved last month.

Photo by Lionel Bonaventure, Agence France-Presse archive

Nidolères vineyard, in Tresserre, in the south of France, is a pioneer in agriculture.

Agricultural farming is attracting more and more attention around the world, especially in the United States and Europe.

Installing panels on 1% of EU farmland would quintuple current solar energy production, a European Commission report last year estimated.

When she returned her sheep to the solar park last May, MI Greer noticed that the grass was greener and thicker in the areas his animals had grazed and fattened the previous summer.

“When they remove the shingles, in 25 to 30 years, they won't just have dirt and little bits of grass that are of little use, but this soil and these plants, which will still be good,” she explains.

“The idea is to leave the Earth in better condition than it was when we found it.”

Read the article published in s magazineSustainability (English)

See the European Commission report (in English)

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