Wind: The Newest Cash Crop for Some Farmers

Bloomberg writer Jennifer Oldham reported recently that, “Wind energy, the fastest-growing source of electricity in the U.S., is transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the federal government gave land to homesteaders 150 years ago. As commodity prices threaten to reach decade lows and farmers struggle to meet debt payments, wind has become the newest cash crop, saving family farms across a wide swath of the heartland.

“The money Richard Wilson earns from leasing his land for about 35 turbines run by the Golden West Wind Energy Center outside Colorado Springs has kept him from having to sell off pieces of the 6,000-acre cattle and wheat ranch his family has owned since 1948. ‘We weren’t making enough money to sustain ourselves,’ he says. ‘Now we’re in a position where we can operate our farm for another generation at least.’

“For others, turbines spin off six-figure incomes that have allowed them to retire from farming altogether.”

Graph From Bloomberg News

The Bloomberg article noted that, “The more than $100 billion that companies have invested in wind power in low-income counties—where about 70 percent of wind farms are located—has helped double assessed land values in some of the poorest parts of rural America. That’s provided a much-needed infusion of local tax revenue that’s being used to rebuild schools and pay down debt.

A five-year extension of a federal tax credit on wind production, passed at the end of last year, should accelerate the construction of turbines.”

Ms. Oldham added that, “In Iowa, which got 31 percent of its power from wind in 2015, more than any other state, money from turbines has protected farmers from falling corn prices. Annual lease payments of about $17 million helped some avoid foreclosure as they prepared for a record corn harvest that could drive receipts to a 10-year low. Tim Hemphill, a corn and soybean farmer outside Milford, gets about $20,000 a year for leasing land for turbines. ‘A few years ago corn was $7 a bushel,’ he says. ‘Now my cost to raise it is $4.20 and [the price] could fall to $2.70. It’s going to break a lot of people.’

“Wind is also keeping power prices low across much of rural America. In the 11 states that produce more than 7 percent of their power from wind, electricity prices fell 0.37 percent from 2008 to 2013; nationwide, power prices were up 7.7 percent during that period.”

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