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The whir of the windmill may again be heard in the land. From Montana and North Dakota to Texas and New Mexico, 20 million acres of cropland are irrigated. With most pumps powered by expensive natural gas and electricity, however, some farmers have been switching from irrigation back to dryland farming.

That switch cuts costs but it also cuts grain production. So the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has come up with an old way to keep the water flowing, and those great rusty, tin-bladed windmills of yesteryear may be about ready for a comeback.

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USDA engineers now estimate that a network of Great Plains wind turbines could deliver 18 billion kilowatt-hours of waterpumping energy per year.

Tests in Texas and Kansas indicate that wind turbines could supply 60 to 70 percent of current energy demand for surface irrigation on the Great Plains and 30 to 45 percent of the energy used for sprinkler irrigation.

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