American Farmers Are Turning To Wind Energy

Source: By Johnna Crider, CleanTechnica • Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2020

Wind energy is offering hope for American farmers amid tough times. In an article by Time Magazine, the plight of American farmers is brought into focus. “They’re trying to wipe us off the map,” says the subheading that quotes one of the farmers interviewed in the article.

Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica

The article shares the story of the Rieckmann family, which has had their farm for nearly two centuries in Wisconsin. The couple who now run it, Mary and John, have been through a lot — droughts, floods, too much milk making prices fall — and today, they are around $300,000 in debt and the bill collectors want their money. The couple is struggling to make money and the debt is becoming impossible to pay. They receive $16 for every 100 pounds of milk they sell, which is a 40% decrease from 6 years ago. Sometimes, there are weeks in which the money they make from milk simply goes toward their monthly mortgage payment — $2100 a month.

Their story is one of many. Farm debt, at $416 billion, is at an all-time high. Many farmers have lost money every year since 2013, the article shares. This issue is caused by what is described as a “perfect storm of factors.” The result is a crisis in the farm industry. The starting point was prices for commodities like corn, soybeans, milk, and meat starting to fall in 2013 due to technology and globalization. Extreme weather created or exacerbated by global heating and climate change piled on top. Most recently, a trade war with China has added to their problems.

Despite all of this, there is a ray of hope. There is a new type of crop that is helping farmers. “I would say the absence of financial stress has been a real game-changer for me,” Tom Cunningham tells USA Today. He has three wind turbines on his land and they make up for the crop export issues he has been facing. Farmers who living in the area known as Tornado Alley have a new commodity to sell that harnesses that region’s powerful wind.

Wind turbine leases are 30–40 years long and are giving the landowners yearly income that is helping them survive the economic dips brought by drought, floods, tariffs, and the fluctuating prices of the crops and livestock they produce. USA Today shares that many of the landowners whose fields host the turbines can earn $3,000 to $7,000 annually for an area about the size of a two-car garage that each turbine takes up. Cunningham’s lease payments helped him pay off his farm equipment and other debts.

Wind, Like Oil, Isn’t The Solution For Some American Farmers

The only comparison wind energy has to oil is the fact that not every farmer will have access to enough wind. Just as not everyone has oil in their land. Pete Ferrell told USA Today that wind helped save his ranch just as oil helped his father back when he ran the ranch. His father allowed oil production, which saved them financially from the drought in the 1950s. Ferrell sees that harvesting the almost constantly blowing Kansas winds is another way to make a living off the land. His farm has 100 turbines with blades that are 125 feet long.

The main issue that these farms face is the unevenly distributed resource. This could create bad blood in communities, especially when your neighbor’s wind farm makes enough to pay taxes and barely anything else. This is similar to oil, where not everyone ends up with a well on their property that turns them into a multimillionaire. In some areas, wind farms have been working toward solving this by making smaller payments to landowners who don’t have turbines on their land but who live near a wind farm.

Michelle Graham is Meridian Way’s operations manager. She tells USA Today that, “It’s the good neighbor clause.” Jason Brown of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City also says that, “In Michigan, you’ve seen some companies try to offer modest amounts of payment to nonparticipating residents as a way to help establish buy-in.”

American farmers who are struggling in areas without good wind energy resources need some other way to fight these financial struggles with the creation of clean energy. Perhaps other farmers could create solar farms or lease their land to solar developers for a similar purpose. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, points out that all one needs is a 100 by 100 mile patch in a deserted corner of Arizona, Texas, Utah, or anywhere else to power the entire USA.

Farmers are used to living off the land. Perhaps it’s time for many more of them to live off the weather.