Looking for another crop to harvest? Consider the wind. “Wind turbines are compatible with raising crops, forages and livestock,” says Lisa Daniels, director of Windustry, a Minnesota-based organization devoted to educating landowners about wind energy. “They take less than 2% of the land out of production, and it's an additional source of revenue.”

With wind energy potential pegged at 10,777 billion kilowatts annually — three times the amount of power the U.S. now uses — many 200'-tall wind turbines have already been erected on ag lands across the country. Wind energy's appeal is bolstered by its environmentally friendly attributes and the potential to reduce American reliance on foreign energy.

North and South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma are the top states with wind energy development potential, according to the American Wind Energy Association. And, as Daniels points out, the turbines are compatible with about any land use. The 2002 Farm Bill even allows wind turbines to be erected on Conservation Reserve Program land.

Last year, South Dakotan Jason Runestad and his parents, John and Sharon, had eight wind turbines erected on pastureland used for their commercial cow-calf operation. The turbines are part of a 27-turbine wind farm located near Highmore, SD, and operated by a Florida-based energy company.

Landowners lease the land to the power company. Runestad says that, once the towers are constructed, there is little interference with their grazing operation.

“It's been a good deal and an extra source of income,” he says.

Although much of the future growth in the wind industry is expected to come from large wind-power plants run by corporations, small clusters of turbines operated by local landowners and small businesses are also viable. In these scenarios, there are two potential revenue streams for landowners.

The most popular is through leasing land to wind developers. That can generate $2,000-5,000/year of income for the landowner, says Daniels.

As a second option, local entities can produce the wind power themselves and sell it to utility companies.

“As people become more familiar with wind energy, I think we'll see more elements of local ownership of these projects — whether it be a school district, a local utility company, or a group of producers,” Daniels says.

These larger-scale projects could generate up to six-digit returns after expenses are paid, according to some estimates.

Runestad believes wind energy will develop greatly in the next few years. Currently, he says, the biggest hold-up is the lack of transmission lines to handle the energy produced by wind towers.

But once developed, wind energy portends to be an economic boost to the ag economy. Daniels reports that each 100 megawatts of wind development in southwestern Minnesota has generated about $1 million annually in property tax revenue and about $250,000 per year in direct lease payments to landowners.

For more information, visit www.windustry.com.