Traditionally, farms are used to harvest produce and livestock, but there’s been a growing movement towards harvesting something new: renewable energy. Many farmers already use their land to produce renewable energy by growing corn to make ethanol, and many others harvest the wind that blows across their land to make electricity. Profitable and environmentally conscious, cultivating renewable energy on a farm is a win-win for all parties. (NSAC)
What kinds of renewable energy can farmers harvest?
Most common in the Midwest, Great Plains, and the West, wind turbines installed on the land harvest the energy of strong winds. This energy is then sold to local electric companies. Each wind turbine uses less than half an acre of land, and farmers can plant crops and graze livestock right to the turbine’s base. Developers may pay as much as $2,000-$5,000 per year for each installed turbine.
Biomass energy is produced from plants and organic wastes, everything from crops and trees to crop residues and manure. Corn is currently the most widely grown and used energy crop, but native prairie grasses such as switchgrass and fast-growing trees like the poplar and willow show potential for popularity in the future. These crops require less maintenance than others, so they are cheaper and more sustainable to produce. These crops and biomass wastes can be converted to energy on the farm, or sold to energy companies. The impact of biomass energy could be the equivalent to taking 70 million cars off the road, as well as an annual $20 billion boon to the farming industry.
While desert areas such as Arizona and Nevada receive more sun than other parts of the country, most areas receive enough sunshine to make solar energy practical. Solar energy can be captured on the farm and used to cut electricity and heating costs. Solar water heaters can provide hot water for humans and animals alike. Solar panels can power farm operations and remote water pumps, lights, and electric fences. Typically, installing these solar panels is more cost effective up front than extending power lines across your land.
For more information on the kinds of renewable energy that can be harvested and used on a farm and how you can go about implementing these practices yourself, check out Sustainable Agriculture.