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Study suggests that wind turbines could benefit crops


December 19, 2010

Preliminary results of a study on how wind turbines interact with surrounding farm land have shown that the trubines could benefit crops in subtle but significant ways

Preliminary results of a study on how wind turbines interact with surrounding farm land have shown that the trubines could benefit crops in subtle but significant ways

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Researchers from the Ames Laboratory and the University of Colorado have spent a few months wandering through corn fields on farms in the Midwest to gather information on how wind turbines interact with surrounding farm land. The data collected so far indicates that the turbines may offer more than the sustainable production of electricity, they may also benefit surrounding crops by helping them stay cooler and dryer, fight off attack from fungi and toxins and improve CO2 extraction.

Led by Ames' Gene Takle and Julie Lundquist from the University of Colorado, the research team recorded most of its measurements during the spring of 2010 in Midwestern corn fields with wind farms close by. They used a combination of wind-measuring instruments called anemometers to determine the intensity of turbulence and a lidar - a specialized laser that records winds and turbulence from near the Earth's surface to well above the top tip of a turbine blade. Plant moisture and temperature readings were also collected.

The instruments placed upwind and downwind recorded persistent increased turbulence up to a quarter of a mile from the turbine. According to Takle and other studies, the turbines channel air downwards, increasing airflow to surrounding crops. This is thought to speed up natural processes such as heat exchange - keeping crops cooler during hot days and stirring up air in the lower atmosphere to make things a little warmer at night, which could help to ward off early frosts in the Fall. The process could also increase carbon dioxide extraction from the air and soil.

More turbulence may also help dry out dew that settles on crops and therefore limit the time window that fungi toxins have to establish on leaves. Drier crops could also negate the need to artificially dry corn or soy at harvest time.

The researchers say that it's early days for the study but results obtained so far indicate that turbines could have a subtle impact on crop yield. However, in certain years and under certain circumstances the impact could potentially be significant. "We've finished the first phase of our research, and we're confident that wind turbines do produce measurable effects on the microclimate near crops," said Takle.

The team's preliminary findings were presented to the Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco recently.

The researchers hope to continue their observations throughout the next growing season and add to the data already collected. They're also looking to develop a specific turbine predictions model rather than continue to use an adapted computational fluid model that's normally used to better understand the impact of tree cover on the surrounding environment.

In the following short video, Gene Takle from the Ames Laboratory talks about the project:

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

Why does this old former musician and trucker have to think of this? Citrus growers always seem to have large raised fans in their orchards to stir up a breeze to try and prevent frost damage. Why not have these replaced/modified to use electricity to stir up wind currents for frost prevention as they do now, and used to generate electricity when the wind is blowing? I know, I know. \"Too simple\"; \"Can\'t be done\"; \"Where\'s your degree?\". Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Myron J. Poltroonian

Hooray for the positive-sum game!

Now if we can just find a way to moderate the impact of wind turbines on bats ... .

Facebook User

I believe that electric farm vehicles should be developed for farmers so that they would be able to charge them from wind generators located on their farm under special contract with wind generator companies. This would enable them to have an ample source of power for farming which, by savings of diesel and petrol, would permit the crop production costs to be diminished.

Adrian Akau

I am skeptical. A total lack of numbers, all kinds of unverified hypothesis, and an expensive slick-looking video with actors dressed up pretending to be doing the study?

Someone is up to something here...

Yes - a temperature change of -0.000000000001 degrees is a decrease.

No - that doesn\'t mean it will have any measurable affect on anything whatsoever.

The PR and the marketing are all done now, and us readers are all now happily believing what they\'ve said (but not measured yet). They don\'t even need to do a study now - they\'ve accomplished their goal (whatever it was - getting grants, or refuting environmental concerns, or convincing farmers or whatever).

Not bad for a few days in the corn with a thermometer eh?

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