For centuries farmers have farmed land where they have earned a living growing crops or raising livestock. However, in recent years, due to the way in which the economy has changed and supermarkets have taken over, farmers are really feeling the pinch2. In many places, it's a lot tougher to earn a living from traditional farming than it used to be. This has resulted in many looking towards alternatives including wind energy and agriculture working together in some way5.
As such, the greediness of the penny-pinching supermarkets coupled with a pressing need to grow our renewable energy production all might have come at a good time for farmers.
As we move into an era where we are looking for alternative energy sources, land to install wind turbines will be required. With the growth in demand for wind energy, farmers can now consider how they might make use of agricultural land to farm wind.
Despite almost every country has an abundance of land, traditionally farmers haven’t wanted to part with it. Especially for unsightly wind turbines.
However, In some places, this change is already upon us. We can now see farmers owning community wind power schemes in the UK7. Arguably this bold move signifies a changing market. Despite this, can agriculture and wind energy work side by side or do they have to work on their own?
We need a large scale change to reduce polluting energy production. We are using up fossil fuels at a rate that will see them run out by the end of this century8. To add to this, we are creating carbon emissions that cause a number of environmental problems. So, now we are faced with a growing need to find alternative energy sources and wind energy fits the bill.
In the UK, farmland accounts for around 70% of the land. That is a large portion of land much of which may prove appropriate to accommodate new wind farms. In looking to blend wind energy and agriculture farmers have the chance to increase their income whilst providing the space to implement the technology.
Across the world, we now generate a total of 591,594 MW from wind power. While this is only a percentage of the total, wind power is growing by around 9% each year. This growth is in tune with its forecast and growing role helping to reduce carbon emissions and our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.
Therefore, wind farms will, no doubt, become a more prevalent part of our clean energy future.
In fact, wind energy is viewed as sufficiently important that wind energy targets have been put in place in Europe. The ultimate target is 100% renewable energy by 20506. We have to seek cleaner ways to produce energy and wind developers will continue to build wind farms to meet these targets and demand for renewable energy.
To do so, we are going to need land and a lot more of it. In our race to reduce polluting fossil fuel sourced energy wind power is going to become one of the main sources of energy that we rely on.
Ever since wind farms became a plausible source of renewable energy, their installation on the landscape has been a cause of concern for many.
First and foremost, whereas clean energy is a product of wind turbines dotted around our landscape they are not without their own environmental impact9.
There have been worries about wildlife and habitats during the installation, not to mention the problem of harming wildlife after their installation has taken place. Due to how wind turbines work, they can also negatively affect the flight path of birds. And the noise wind turbines create can present problems too4.
Then we have the problem of the appearance of wind farms on the landscape. Where we once had endless views that went on for miles, we now see the growth of wind farms across many a horizon.
Meanwhile, farmland has more than likely been passed through generations. Farmers are proud of their heritage and their ability to provide. But things have changed, now they are almost being forced into looking at other options such as wind farms.
While some might see this as a bad thing, for farmers, it is a way out, an option if you like. Arguably the issues with wind farming are far outweighed by the positives. As such wind farms look set to present a compelling opportunity for the agricultural community.
As it currently stands, there are just over 7,000 onshore wind turbines in the UK. Many of these wind farms operate while farming still continues. Whether farmers want to grow crops or raise livestock, both remain possible.
On the surface, it might seem as though wind farms could displace agriculture. While there is every possibility that farmers might have to give up or sell land, there are plenty of benefits of combining wind energy and agriculture.
We already know that farmers are finding it difficult to make money. Competition from the supermarkets driving the cost of farm goods down and an increase in production costs are hitting them hard. Despite this, wind farms can help farmers to produce more food.
Through the use of electricity that the turbines generate, they can lower their costs. This will enable them to save money that they can use to produce more food. They can scale up production, purchase more equipment and increase their profits at the same time.
Farmers have two options when it comes to wind farms. They can either sell their land completely or they can lease their land. However, it seems as though at least some landowners have a positive outlook on using the land for wind energy when compared to other energy sources3.
Selling land is not an easy decision. Ultimately, it is one that is driven by finances and it has to work for farmers but it does not have to mean the end of their farming days.
If they choose to sell part of their land to realise the advantages of wind energy, then they will benefit from a large payment that could help them to continue farming. However, many farmers are choosing to lease their land. This then becomes an additional income for them while still retaining ownership.
In order to take advantage of the lease option, their land will have to meet certain criteria. Despite this, the income they receive can help to protect them financially. They can also use the money to reinvest in their business.
Even after the installation of wind farms on farmland, it is still possible for farmers to use the land. Despite popular misconceptions, farmland remains usable, even after the installation has taken place. The turbines, on average will use between a quarter and half an acre of land. This means it is still possible to farm around 98% of the land.
The installation of wind farms cause disruption but on the whole, the farmer has the ability to operate almost as normal. They still have the ability to grow crops around the turbines. If farmers raise livestock then they too can still continue to use the land around them.
In years gone by, the idea of wind farms would have been met with ferocious resistance. There is still some potential resistance at a local level in the UK. However, resistance to wind farms has been put down to planning process outcomes1. Despite this, it seems as though attitudes are shifting as the requirements and benefits are understood..
There is no doubt that we need to seek out alternative energy sources. We need to reduce greenhouse emissions and prevent the damage that we are causing to the environment. As far as alternative sources go, wind is up there as one of the best. This is why more big wind farms are being seen across the world, particularly in countries such as China, the United States and the UK.
However, it could be said that farmers hands are tied slightly. Their profits are being hit hard and they are having to make cuts and changes to the way they farm. As a result, they are in need of an alternative source of income and wind farms fill the void perfectly well. Therefore, acceptance that this is a technology they can embrace is rising.
Whether it is in the UK or the arid deserts of the United States if the wind blows then wind farms can generate clean, renewable energy. In 2017, a new wind turbine was installed in the US every two and a half hours.
This level of development has created an opportunity for farmers. However, the longer they leave it, the more likely it is that prices will be pushed down. So now is the time for farmers to take advantage of this opportunity, even if it does go against everything that their past generations believed in.
The truth is that wind energy and agriculture can work side by side. However. it does require a level of understanding from farmers as to the benefits.
In the move to cleaner energy perception is changing. Many now see wind farms as no longer a blot on the landscape, but rather a necessity. We need alternatives and we need them quickly. However, there is now a lot of proof out there that farmers can benefit from combining wind energy and agriculture as opposed to perceiving wind farms as a threat.
When we consider that farmers can benefit financially while still having the ability to farm, it puts the entire idea under a new kind of spotlight. All of a sudden, it is positive in so many ways.
As farmers show willing to share their land with wind turbines we can accelerate the switch over to renewable energy. It is a proven technology that we already know can help us to reduce our carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, we have to forfeit pristine rolling hills and wonderful views for wind farms but we have no other choice given the situation that we now find ourselves in.
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|Howard Smith, John Thanassoulis, Prices, profits, and pass-through of costs along a supermarket supply chain: bargaining and competition, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 31, Issue 1, SPRING 2015, Pages 64–89, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxrep/grv007|
|Jeffrey B. Jacquet, Landowner attitudes toward natural gas and wind farm development in northern Pennsylvania, Energy Policy, Volume 50, 2012, Pages 677-688, ISSN 0301-4215, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.08.011|
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|Kirsty L. Holstead, Carlos Galán-Díaz & Lee-Ann Sutherland (2017) Discourses of on-farm wind energy generation in the UK farming press, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 19:4, 391-407, DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2016.1224157|
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