Alabama trails in irrigated farmlandPublished 4:40pm Thursday, July 4, 2013
By Russ Corey
The Associated Press
FLORENCE — From a distance, it might not look like it’s moving. Up close, however, the 1,640-foot system of pipes, hoses, nozzles, motors and wheels is slowly making a 360-degree revolution through a field of corn.
From the up-close vantage point, you see different-sized jets of water spraying into the green stalks, soaking them with a precise amount of water during a crucial time in the plant’s life.
The contraption, mounted on a steel frame, is known by those in the farming business as a center-pivot irrigation system, and it’s operating in one of Steve Posey’s fields in Lawrence County.
Posey said 27,000 gallons of water will be used to soak an acre of corn with an inch of water at times when Mother Nature is unable to produce sufficient rainfall.
Irrigating fields gives farmers peace of mind during dry periods, but there are several reasons why more Alabama farmers are not following a national trend by using irrigation systems to water their crops. Atop the list is money.
Bud Duncan, parts and service manager at Tri-Green Equipment’s irrigation division, said it costs about $65,000-$125,000 to install the average irrigation system, depending on the size of the field and the amount of technology the customer wants. That cost does not include the cost of supplying water or power to the system.
Posey said irrigating fields can be an expensive undertaking.
Posey said the equipment for a center-pivot irrigation system can cost about $435 per acre. That does not include the equipment needed to pump water to the center pivot element of the system, where water is pumped out into the sprayers. It also does not include the diesel engines that power generators that provide electricity for each set of wheels that carry the irrigation system through the field.
Despite the additional cost, Posey said, irrigating his crops can make a big difference in yield and how much money he will make at the market.
In May, the Alabama Farmers Federation applauded the U.S. Senate adoption of an amendment to the farm bill that expands access to a federal irrigation program. The amendment was offered by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile.
A news release stated Alabama lags behind other Southern states in irrigated farmland, and utilized only 2.5 percent of available water.
“We are very appreciative of Senator Sessions’ efforts on this amendment,” Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said. “Alabama is blessed with an abundance of water. This program allows farmers to use a portion of this precious resource in an environmentally responsible way to reduce risks, increase productivity and ensure food security.”
Auburn Extension Coordinator Danny McWilliams estimated only a quarter of the row crop farmers have irrigation systems.
One reason for the increase, he said, are the costs associated with crop production.
He said irrigation minimizes one of the more obvious risks associated with farming, a lack of water during crucial times in a crop’s life cycle.
Session’s amendment would allow farmers who’ve never irrigated their crops to apply for assistance under the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program.
Current program provisions prevent many Alabamians from taking advantage of the program, according to the federation news release. Sessions said the program now is limited to farms that have been irrigated previously, which prevents most Alabama farmers from being eligible.
The senator’s amendment eliminates the restriction, which would make more farmers eligible for assistance.
A state program approved in 2012 provides tax incentives to farmers that irrigate.
The Agricultural Irrigation Systems Tax Credit gives farmers a tax credit up to 20 percent of the cost of new irrigation systems, with a cap of $10,000 per farm.
Only 120,000 of Alabama’s 2.5 million acres of farmland are irrigated, said Sam Fowler, director of the Auburn University Water Resources Center. By comparison, Mississippi and Georgia each have about 1.5 million acres irrigated.