While driving along the highway, you have probably noticed the old-fashioned, rusty windmills out in the open fields. They seem to teeter and tilt, spindly looking tin towers rising up out of the prairies, comical pinwheels spinning in the wind. Primarily, these are mechanical windmills harnessed directly to mechanical water pumps to lift water up out of the ground for livestock, usually cattle or sheep.
Water for Livestock
The wind blows, the windmill cranks the pump and water comes up from close-to-the-surface aquifers and fills usually small metal reservoirs set below ground level. A flotation device signals when the reservoir is filled, and the windmill disengages from the water pump. The windmill stops spinning. When the water level falls below a determined level, a lever drops, and the windmill is loosed; when wind is present, the process begins again.
Windmills can be used to lift water from the aquifer to directly irrigate crops or to pipe water from one location, such as a reservoir or pond, to a location where water is required. This is direct wind-to-water power, a mechanical means of moving water. As technology advances, more farmers are installing modern windmills that convert wind into electrical power; the electricity can then be used to irrigate crops. This is already happening in Afghanistan, as reported by the Department of Defense: "Farmers can use the windmills to power irrigation systems for crops, such as soybeans and wheat, while avoiding operating costs and maintenance problems of diesel-powered mechanical generators. They also share water with their neighbors."
Farmers often have a storage reservoir or pond where water is gathered first and later distributed to all parts of the farm as water is required. But water, sitting still, can stagnate and cause problems around a farm or ranch. Windmills can be employed to move the water by forcing air below the surface, thus keeping the water fresher longer. Windmills can produce water and also aerate water.
Traditionally, windmills have been used to inexpensively irrigate greenhouse operations. Due to the rising cost of energy, greenhouse farmers are looking to both the wind and the sun to provide more than water, more than chlorophyll. With the advance in clean-energy technology, windmills, in conjunction with solar power, are becoming the best way to irrigate and provide power for greenhouses, including artificial lighting at night when required. As reported in the Kuna Melba News, a farm couple in Idaho is already applying this technology: "The turbine first went on line in May and after encountering a few problems it became fully operational on June 16, 2006 and is providing all necessary power for the greenhouse."
Modern Farming and Energy
As farming is modernized, renewable energy, cleaner energy and more fuel-efficient energy will become more significant considerations. Wind-generated energy, combined with photovoltaic energy, will be used to power farms, to plow and harvest, and to irrigate, aerate, and water livestock. Currently, the "fuel-to-food" conversion rate is cycling out of control, and increasingly farmers are resourcefully turning to the powers inherent in the wind to more economically produce food for the world.