What is the Cornell Solar Grazing Project?
Claire: The Cornell Solar Grazing Project is a research project that will help us move into a more sustainable future while diversifying farming by adapting to the growing small ruminant business.
Milan: I would describe the solar grazing project as an in-depth look into the benefits and impacts of grazing sheep on solar sites. The research conducted looks not only at carbon exchange but how grazing on solar sites impacts the biodiversity of the plants and pollinators onsite.
Solar grazing project combines renewable energy and agriculture
Motivated by the push from New York state toward renewable energy, a transdisciplinary team at Cornell launched the Solar Grazing Project to investigate optimal sheep grazing management around ground-mounted solar arrays to avoid panel shading. Started in 2019 by postdoctoral research fellow Niko Kochendoerfer and Mike Thonney, late professor and director of graduate studies in Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science, the project taps experts in animal science, soil carbon sequestration, vegetation biodiversity and pollinator habitats to take a holistic view of the ecosystem.
What work did you do as part of the Solar Grazing Project summer internship program?
Claire: We regularly collected insects and forage for analysis, conducted biodiversity assessments and ran metabolism trials. After collecting the insects, we sorted and identified them for use by other Cornell labs.
Milan: We also collected various sheep feces and measured the amount of carbon inside. This data helped us determine if the solar grazing plots could be effective carbon sinks, which is beneficial for the environment.
What has been your favorite aspect of this role?
Claire: Honestly, I enjoyed doing every aspect. I’m excited for results to be published so other farmers in the northeast can apply our work to their farming practices and prove that it is economically viable.
Milan: I really didn’t think I would like sheep this much! I didn’t have any large animal handling experience before coming to Cornell. I developed confidence and an appreciation for working with these animals.
How have you grown from this experience?
Claire: This hands-on experience has furthered my education in animal science and expanded my knowledge of vegetation and insects in the northeast.
Milan: Because of my time in this project, I have learned so much about nutrition and how it is applied outside of my classrooms. I’ve really come to understand and enjoy animal nutrition and would like to pursue it in the future.
Daniella Garcia-Loos Almeida ’25 is a physics major in the College of Arts and Sciences and a student writer for Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.
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