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Monday, December 27, 2010

Wind Turbines

With the number of wind turbines in our six-county region, this article caught my eye; "Wind Turbines on Farmland May Benefit Crops". Below are portions of the research article written by Gene Takle, researcher from the Ames Laboratory.

Wind turbines in Midwestern farm fields may be doing more than churning out electricity. The giant turbine blades that generate renewable energy might also help corn and soybean crops stay cooler and dryer, help them fend off fungal infestations and improve their ability to extract growth-enhancing carbon dioxide [CO2] from the air and soil.

"We've finished the first phase of our research, and we're confident that wind turbines do produce measureable effects on the microclimate near crops," said Ames Laboratory associate and agricultural meteorology expert Gene Takle. According to Takle, the slow-moving turbine blades channel air downwards, in effect bathing the crops below via the increased airflow they create.

However, these early findings have yet to definitively establish whether or not wind turbines are in fact beneficial to the health and yield potential of soybeans and corn planted nearby. However, their finding that the turbines increase airflow over surrounding crops, suggests this is a realistic possibility.

For instance, crops warm up when the sun shines on them, and some of that heat is given off to the atmosphere. Extra air turbulence likely speeds up this heat exchange, so crops stay slightly cooler during hot days. On cold nights, turbulence stirs the lower atmosphere and keeps nighttime temperatures around the crops warmer.

"In this case, we anticipate turbines' effects are good in the spring and fall because they would keep the crop a little warmer and help prevent a frost," said Takle. "Wind turbines could possibly ward off early fall frosts and extend the growing season."

Other benefits of wind turbines could result from their effects on crop moisture levels. Extra turbulence may help dry the dew that settles on plants, minimizing the amount of time fungi can grow on plant leaves. Additionally, drier crops at harvest help farmers reduce the cost of artificial grain drying.

Another potential benefit to crops is that increased airflows could enable corn and soybean plants to more readily extract atmospheric CO2, a needed "fuel" for crops. The extra turbulence might also pump extra CO2 from the soil. Both results could facilitate the crops ability to perform photosynthesis.

"We anticipate the impact of wind turbines to be subtle. But in certain years and under certain circumstances the effects could be significant," said Takle. "When you think about a summer with a string of 105-degree days, extra wind turbulence from wind turbines might be helpful. If turbines can bring the temperature down below 100 degrees that could be a big help for crops."

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science research facility operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions to solve global challenges.