Renewable energy on the farm

Photos by Mike Lamb Alfred Jessen checks the windmill monitors inside the barn on his farm in Florence. Jessen sells power from his windmill and solar panels. In the below photo, the wind turbine towers over one of the barns on Jessen’s farm.

FLORENCE — At age 88, Alfred Jessen knows a good investment when he sees it.

After more than 60 years of farming, Jessen also knows the economics of farming.

“I always said this one thing,” Jessen said while walking on his farm site.

“When you buy a sack of corn, it’s mine. I can do whatever I want to do with that sack of corn. As soon as I put it (corn) in the ground, it grows up, the banker thinks it’s his corn to back up his loan. And when it gets a little taller — see how much it’s going to yield — then the government thinks it’s their corn.

“That’s the whole cycle. As soon as I put it into the ground, I lose control over it. Then whatever the market will be, I have to pay whatever they want the price of corn (to be).”

Jessen also realizes things have changed since he last farmed full-time. Today he rents his land to other farmers. Out of six children, one son remains in farming, operating a hog farm just down the road from Jessen’s land and the site he calls the home farm. That’s where Jessen’s father did his farming.

“I sold a lot of seed corn when I was farming. You know $40, $50 a bag for a bushel of corn. Now its up $400 to $500 for a bag of corn. So the farmer gets a lot of money in for that crop. A crop costs about $100 an acre. Then you have to do all the work for it. It gets to the point where, unless you get a real good crop, they have been fortunate to get like $200 a bushel yield. A $100 was like when I was farming. They wouldn’t be able to make it anymore.

“That is some of the bad parts of farming. But the best part is that you are your own.You work by yourself. And that’s what you enjoy doing,” he said.

Jessen warns that it’s difficult for a young farmer to get started. And he says it’s even difficult for an established farmer. But he believes there are some other options for farmers to generate income and preserve the environment.

“I believe in wind and solar,” he said, while standing in the shadow of his 80-foot windmill. Nearby was his large open barn with a row of solar panels on it.

Jessen first got involved with wind energy back in 1980 with a wooden tower.

“At that time, I turned the meter backward,” Jessen said. “That was a good deal. But they won’t let me do that anymore. Now everything has to be sold to the power company and then we can buy it back at the going rate. By law they have to pay me average retail price.”

Jessen says he gets a check from the power company every month.

He said the solar is a good deal because of a 30 percent tax break.

“We want to have renewable energy. We don’t want all this oil burning,” Jessen said.

There are also solar gardens at his son’s hog farm and at the home farm site.

Jessen says he misses working the land, so he hopes to plant some crops this year.

“I don’t regret farming,” he said. “It has its ups and downs. Basically, it has treated me good. Can’t say I made a lot of money. I put all the money back into it again. But the money I made is (in) the valuation of the land.”