Farm Talk

January 12, 2010

Homeier adds value by growing energy on his Ellsworth Co. farm

by Megan Lawrence

Agriculture is known as a family tradition and Gordon Homeier, a farmer in Ellsworth, Kansas, is no exception to this tradition farming 7,000 acres with his son, Michael. However, Homeier is not afraid of risks or new ideas in finding ways to make farming profitable.

“I like to like to think of myself as progressive-aggressive and someone who thinks outside of the box,” said Homeier.

Although Homeier farms differently than his father, he does use similar concepts used by his ancestors, as he is part of a The Smoky Hills Wind Project. In the 1880s Homeier’s great grandparents used a windmill to pump water from the well and another windmill to produce energy.

“I have always had an interest in wind energy,” he said. “I started doing some research and going and looking at different wind farms when I was on trips buying cattle or just out driving. It wasn’t until I went to northern Iowa when I really became interested. I met a lady who was a landowner in a wind farm in Iowa and she gave a book of information for me to look through and then mail back to her.”

After gathering more information he went to the economic developer for Ellsworth County to discuss the idea of a commercial wind farm. When investors came to discuss the idea to the community there is no surprise Homeier was interested in being part of the project.

The Smoky Hills Wind Project is in both Ellsworth and Lincoln Counties in Kansas with the largest amount of turbines in Lincoln County. This project contains 20,000 acres of land and stretches across 22 miles, with the involvement of 100 landowners. There are 155 turbines between the two phases of the project. According to Homeier, the Smoky Hills Wind Project is a 250 megawatt farm. Out of the landowners, Homeier is one of three who have the most land involved in the project. Not only does he have 1,500 acres in the project, Homeier plays a bigger part as his land contains a power line which connects directly into the grid, he mentioned.

According to Homeier, both Lincoln and Ellsworth Counties will stand to make millions from the project.

The first phase is a 100 megawatt farm and the second phase is 150 megawatt farm. Homeier has four turbines and is involved in the second phase which recently finished its first year.

According to Homeier, construction for phase one began in spring of 2007 and came online in the spring of 2008, while the second phase began construction in January of 2008 and went online in December 2008.

“I have learned more about energy,” mentioned Homeier. “I like to think what I am doing is an upgraded version of sustainable agriculture.”

The Smoky Hills Wind Project is a private commercial wind farm developed by Trade Wind Energy in Lenexa, Kansas and has a purchase power agreement with Midwest Energy, Sunflower Electric, Kansas City, Kansas Municipal, City Utilities of Springfield, Missouri, Independence Power and Light and a small portion of the energy is sold in the spot market.

Not only is Homeier involved in wind energy he lives in a house which was made from native limestone and has two out buildings which are also made from native limestone found on his property. He uses ethanol in every vehicle he owns and then buys ethanol by-products to feed his cattle in the winter to reduce feed cost.

“We have 2,500 acres around the house which we consider the farm ground, but we also have leased land in the Flint Hills where we have a large majority of our cattle,” said Homeier. “We run approximately 1,200 to 1,500 head of cattle a year, and feed those cattle with the crops we grow and also by using wet distillers grain which is purchased in the summer when it is cheaper. The key in using distillers grain is location as it is contains 60 percent water and if you have to haul the grain long distances than it can take away from the profit.”

Homeier has always looked for new opportunities in becoming profitable and he is passionate about agriculture and wants to be able to leave something for his children.

“My interest in wind energy and being part of a commercial farm fits my philosophy of the bigger picture, Homeier said. “Why bake a pie and cut smaller pieces when you can bake a bigger pie have bigger pieces. Right now wind energy is an opportunity for me to make more money so I am utilizing it but in a couple of years if we find something else like making energy from fruit jars than I will buy more fruit jars.”

Homeier mentioned he has not seen any negatives with the wind turbines. “I will be honest, my first year of farming the land with the turbines I did see a minimal crop yield lost, however, since then I have not,” he said. “In the summer time the cows love laying under the turbines as it provides extra shade. After the turbines were installed only one or two percent of land was taken out of production which includes the roads and maintenance buildings needed. Not only do I receive money from the energy produced but I also receive a yearly payment for my land which was taken out of production.”

“One has to look at the risks, but in my opinion the risks were worth it, I have only seen gain in this process,” Homeier concluded.