With the advent of wind energy development, much attention has been given in the aviation community to the impacts wind turbines located near airports might have on aviation safety. However, a not so readily apparent impact that has not been widely addressed is the impact of wind farms on an important segment of aviation, agricultural aviation. Because many of the country’s richest wind resources are located in agricultural areas, an increasing number of wind farms are being built on leased farmland property. Wind farm land leases provide farmland owners a continuing income source. However, in negotiating, preparing and entering into lease agreements, wind energy developers and landowners should consider other potential economic impacts wind farms might have on farming operations which extend beyond the boundaries of the leased property.
Wind farms generally consist of a large number of wind turbines that exceed 400 feet in height, placed in clusters and irregular or nonlinear patterns in order to make optimum use of prevailing winds. When placed on farmland, wind farms often prevent aerial application operators from gaining access to areas adjacent to, surrounding, or inside the wind farms to apply crop treatment and crop protection materials. Even though aerial application operators regularly encounter the usual safety issues associated with tall structures, transmission lines and cell towers, some refuse to operate within certain distances of wind turbines. Others apply a surcharge because of the added time, often with reduced payloads, required to treat crops around and inside wind farms. As a result, agricultural production in and around wind farms can be greatly reduced or become much more costly. When emergency aerial application services are required to combat crop infestation, areas in and around wind farms are often the last to be treated, or not treated at all. Other issues arise when aerial application operators either refuse, or charge more to treat crops on a farm on which there are no wind farms, because of a wind farm on neighboring property.
Because of the large investment required to build a wind farm, wind farm land leases are typically long-term. Therefore, the economic impacts on agricultural production are also long term. They may be far greater than simply the fair market value of the leased property. These impacts should be of concern to wind farm developers, as well as landowners, because developers may be required to lease more land, and incur more costs, than if the lease included only the wind farm site. Wind energy producers and farmland owners should consider these potential impacts when leasing property for wind farm development.