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An Iowa farmer had $350,000 in debt. Wind turbines are helping her get out.

Iowa farmers use wind turbines to offset losses
Iowa farmers turn to wind turbines to offset losses 03:04

2024 is not expected to be a good year for farms, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasting a 25% downturn in profits.

But some farmers in Iowa have planted something new in the ground to offset their losses: wind turbines.

Evie Haupt, 75, has three of them working the land year-round on her 160-acre farm in Central Iowa. She says the turbines bring in about $35,000 per year, which increases each year with inflation. 

For struggling farmers, that's made the difference between keeping the family farm and losing it as agriculture becomes more unstable due to climate change. Each turbine takes up less than an acre, leaving plenty of farmable land left.

Haupt says the money generated by the wind turbines has helped her chip away at $350,000 in farm debts left over after the death of her husband a decade ago, bringing down the total debt to $67,000.

Two decades ago, there were just a few hundred wind turbines in Iowa. Now there are more than 6,000 that produce about 60% of the state's energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The reduction in carbon emissions from current U.S. wind energy production is equivalent to taking 73 million cars off the road, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Nationwide, over 70,000 turbines power about 10% of the U.S. electric grid. 

Attorney Kathy Law, both a daughter and wife of farmers, has helped place almost half of the wind turbines in Iowa.

"From my farm background, I think I can talk their talk and have conversations with landowners that are interested in having wind turbines on their property," Law said.

Law wanted to become a lawyer in high school, but the 1980s farm crisis kept her home. She went to law school in her forties, graduating the same day her son graduated high school, and was the president of Iowa Wind Energy Association for three years.

Both Law and Haupt have fielded complaints from critics who say the turbines are a threat to wildlife, ruin the view and make too much noise.

"Nobody's requiring them to put that on their farms or on their land," Law said.

"We want to be able to put turbines on our land and receive those benefits," she added.

And even though Haupt is still old-fashioned in some ways, she's progressive on power.

"I look at it as progress. I think we can't stand in the way of progress," Haupt said.

The vista on her farm has changed from decades ago, but she says the view suits her.

"I need to give up one or two acres of my land so that I can generate a commodity that we all use every day, and we all want to use more of it every day. So I'm happy to be able to be a part of that generation," Haupt said.

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