Tate Farms turns to the future with sustainable practices and off-grid solar power
By Patrick Witterschein
FOUNTAIN GREEN—Exposed to the summer sun, the wild horses of Tate Farms gather peacefully in their pasture. Herds of horses lower their heads to feed and then take off at a gallop, all within sight of Highway 132 north of Fountain Green.
The powerful sun might be tough on the horses, but for Scott Noll, owner of Tate Farms, sunlight is a key part of his operation. Tate Farms is off the grid and powered completely by solar panels.
Once used primarily for growing cattle, over the past several years Tate Farms has undergone a significant transformation into a more sustainable and diversified business. Unique and innovative approaches have allowed Noll to keep the farm economically viable while also providing a long-term home for wild horses captured by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
When Noll moved to Sanpete County four years ago, he decided to take the farm in a new direction.
“Let’s take the approach of putting this all back into pasture, focusing on the animals instead of focusing on growing hay,” he said.
Noll sold off all his hay equipment and tractors and, while searching for ways to diversify the farm, found an opportunity to house wild horses from the BLM on a contract basis. Tate Farms is now home to 252 mustangs and is the state’s first and only off-range pasture facility. At capacity, the farm can hold about 700 horses.
“This is really the closest thing these horses will see to their natural habitat,” Noll said.
Tate Farms is able to closely monitor the horses to prevent overgrazing of the pastures and maintain a healthy ecosystem on the ranch.
Although some local residents were wary of the new operation, Noll said that the BLM conducted a thorough environmental assessment over two years. The farm installed additional infrastructure and improved fencing to ensure horses could not escape the facility.
After he sold off his tractors, Noll looked for nutritious and fast growing plants to replace his hay production. He decided on an indoor barley sprout rack system that uses 98 percent less water than conventional hay.
“Essentially, we replaced our fourteen hundred acres of production and put it in a twenty-four hundred square foot building,” Noll said. “If we were to keep this going the whole year, we could grow more feed than we could even think about in our dryland hay.”
With the indoor barley system, Tate Farms can maximize water use and eliminate fossil fuels while still providing food for horses in the dry season.
To monitor the horses throughout the 6,000-acre Tate Farms, Noll decided to take to the skies. Originally a pilot, he has been able to utilize drone aircraft to monitor the location of horses, pasture and water, as well as the condition of fencing around the property.
The drones take pictures and video, providing Noll with quick and accurate information on animals. The new system allows Tate Farms to allocate their resources effectively when and where they are needed. Drone use was a part of Noll’s vision from the time he first put in a proposal for the BLM contract.
Behind the scenes, solar panels provide all the power used at the farm. These solar panels provide the electricity used by buildings, lights and water pumps.
Noll said the question of how best to utilize the farm’s limited resources is what prompted him to move to solar power. Solar power may not allow the luxury of leaving the air conditioner on all day, but it was a good fit for Tate Farms due to its remoteness.
“If you want to be a consumer, sometimes solar would be frustrating,” he said. “But if you’re willing to make the commitment to changing your lifestyle, then it can work.”
Cameron Archibald, the rural programs director at the Governor’s Office of Energy Development (OED), said that there are a number of programs available to rural homes and agriculture operations that are considering a transition to solar power.
“I think in the next five years it’s just going to blow up in the state,” Archibald said, predicting a dramatic increase in the popularity of solar panels and renewable energy.
The potential for renewable energy to defray some energy costs is available to a number of different types of farms in the state. For dairy farms, which need energy 24 hours a day, those cost reductions could be significant.
“If these farms install a solar water heater to their operations, their heating costs will decrease by 85 percent,” Archibald said.
The OED is also working with a number of different local, state and federal organizations to inform farmers of different programs and incentives available to help them transition to renewable energy.
Jeffrey Barrett, deputy director at the OED, said that there is a lot of solar being developed in south and central Utah right now, and farmers can take advantage of open spaces that are well-suited for renewable energy.
“There are real opportunities to offset energy,” Barrett said. “Those projects become one of a number of revenue streams for ranchers.”
Noll said that he simply wants people to understand what can be done with limited resources.
“You just have to think a little bit differently and come at things with a different approach,” he said.
Due to the success of the program so far, Noll envisions slowly increasing his herd of animals while remaining mindful of overgrazing, resource use and energy use. He said he’s even thought about a transition to totally electric ATVs and side-by-sides powered by solar panels.
Noll’s BLM contract is set for 10 years, and after that he intends to renew for another 10 years. Due to the length of the contract, it is likely that most of the horses on his farm will never leave. Through the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, any of the mustangs at Tate Farms or any BLM facility can be adopted for a fee.
For Noll, the next step is to get people excited about the horses. Right now they can sometimes be seen from the highway, but the farm would like to one day offer an experience where people could get close to the animals and see them in what closely resembles their natural habitat.
“We think it’s a great thing to be able to have mustangs here in Sanpete County, and we’d like people to be able to appreciate them also,” Noll said.