Grassroots Advocacy: Breath of Fresh Air
With his public comments, NAAA member Ryan Lubben provided a blueprint for applicators to follow by laying out the adverse effects a proposed wind project will have on Minnesota aerial applicators, farmers
A Minnesota aerial applicator did such a thorough job explaining the adverse effects a proposed wind energy project would have on aerial applicators and the farmers they serve in the affected area that his comments to a state official serve as an outstanding model for any aerial applicators grappling with infrastructure projects that could affect their ability to aid area farmers.
Dodge County Wind LLC (DCW) is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC. It is seeking a permit to construct and operate a wind farm of up to 259 megawatts in Dodge and Steele counties in southeast Minnesota. DCW is also seeking a permit to construct approximately 27 miles of a new 161-kilovolt transmission line between a new project substation and an existing substation in Mower County to connect the proposed wind farm to the electrical grid. Without knowing anything further, it’s not hard for someone familiar with aerial application operations to imagine a wind project of that scope could be problematic for aerial applicators.
Ryan Lubben owns West Central Ag-Air Inc. in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, but has frequently spent time applying fungicides and insecticides on farms in a few hours south of Fergus Falls in Dodge County, Minnesota. His comments to an environmental review manager at the Minnesota Department of Commerce systematically explain why the Dodge County Wind Project, as currently planned, would be incompatible with aerial applicators’ ability to safely provide services to farmers located within the wind project’s widespread footprint.
As an opening salvo, Lubben provided facts about the aerial application industry and his company’s operations, but then he went several steps further to highlight the importance of aerial application to farmers and clearly illustrate the unacceptable safety risks the densely clustered wind turbine project would present to aerial applicators. The comments came together rather quickly once he gathered a few Surety maps and overlayed his GPS logs onto them.
Before getting into the hazards of the proposed wind farm, Lubben gave examples of three reasons why growers need to retain the ability to use ag aircraft. The three reasons he cited were efficiency, economics and environmental benefits. For his economics example, Lubben wrote:
Growers in the area typically get an average of a 17 bushel increase in corn yield by applying a fungicide during the tassel stage of development. (Per conversation with a local grower) Using today’s cash corn price of $7.63/bushel, this equates to an increase of $129 per acre. My company would charge roughly $21/acre for this application including chemical. That translates to $108 per acre of profit for the farmer, or a 500% return on investment!Lubben then moved into the “show” portion of his show-and-tell comments, using his own Surety maps and GPS logs to illustrate to the environmental review manager how the proposed wind turbine construction would jeopardize his and other aerial applicators’ ability to safely enter, exit and return to farmers’ fields in the areas surrounded by the wind turbine clusters and the associated transmission line.
Lubben included the map below of the Dodge County Wind Project area and explained that the GPS flight tracks from his operation for one season were overlaid on to it.
Next, Lubben illustrated safe turnaround distances needed to make aerial applications safely (see Fig. 2):
This map shows the GPS flight tracks from a typical field being sprayed. The blue lines are the flight path and the red lines are the actual spray swaths.
As you can see, the aircraft needs quite a large area to have room in order to turn around on the end of the field. In fact, most of the flying takes place outside of the field being treated. The distance needed for this particular aircraft is approximately ¾ of a mile. As a rule of thumb, [the] aircraft needs a full mile of distance on the end of the field to make a safe turn around. Obstacle free turn around areas is critical for these aircraft as the turnaround maneuver is when the aircraft is quite slow and vulnerable to an aerodynamic stall. The applicator must remain focused at this point and cannot be distracted by obstacles, and must have ample room to make the maneuver.
Lubben isn’t opposed to all wind turbine projects and has even had success working around another wind energy site not far from the proposed Dodge County Wind Project. He closed his comments by pointing out the distinctions between the two wind projects:
Lubben’s full comments are available here.
NAAA applaunds Lubben for his sophisticated yet simplified explanation of the ramifications that ill-planned wind energy projects can inflict on aerial applicators and their farming customers.