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Wind farm turbulence sparks aerial ag angst

While the carbon tax is aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions and promoting alternative energy – not everyone is supportive of clean energy options like wind farms.

The Atherton Tableland has become the latest battleground.

A development application has been lodged to build 75 wind turbines at Mount Emerald.

Local spray operators are concerned turbulence, or “rotor wake”, from the wind turbines could cause significant problems for aerial agriculture.

An aerial assessment commissioned by the developer, Transfield Australia, has indicated spraying in stronger winds would be “rendered impractical”.

Tableland Air Services owner and pilot Mark McDonald says it’s an unacceptable risk that could undermine the viability of his operation and the agricultural crops which depend on aerial spraying.

“It’s going to reduce our ability to operate by about 60 per cent at least,” he says.

“And that’s based on the existing farms that are operating now, it doesn’t take into account the new developments being developed in that area.

“With a lot of these crops, there is no alternative and that’s why we’re here.

“A lot of the times it’s a matter of whether they get a crop or not.”

Dennis Howe, of Howe Farming, has been growing avocados, coffee, peanuts, sugar cane and bananas on the Atherton Tableland for nearly 50 years.

He says aerial spraying is an intergral part of his disease and pest control.

“We do use some ground rig spraying but the way a banana tree grows, it is can be 20 feet in the air and the leaves you are trying to protect are up on top of the canopy so a plane is perfect for disease control,” he says.

“People talk nonsense about the financial benefit to the Tableland of these wind farms. To me, they’re just a bottomless pit for government subsidies.”

Mr Howe says if it goes ahead, the wind farm could jeopardise the expansion of bananas on the Atherton Tableland as the banana industry moves to diversify its production base away from cyclone-prone coastal areas.

He says more than 800 people are employed directly in the banana industry – a figure that’s likely to rise within 12 to 18 months to 1200 to 1400.

“Now I don’t know what the sums are as far as income into the area from wages on banana farms but it’s a damned sight more than we’ll ever see out of the wind farm,” he says.