By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, nearly 250 farmers, government leaders, and economics experts met in Montgomery to discuss the many benefits of increased irrigation for farmers, landowners, and the economy of the state of Alabama.
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan (R) said, “For every 500,000 acres added to irrigation, our state’s economy will net $1 billion a year in new revenue. It’s equivalent to adding a new auto plant.”
Alabama has only about 150,000 acres of irrigated cropland. That is about 10% of what Mississippi and Georgia have. Most of Alabama’s cropland is not irrigated. Alabama normally gets 55 inches of rain per year, which is plenty of water. The problem is that that number is very variable and it is impossible to predict when that water is going to come. Six weeks with no rain in the middle of the growing season can reduce yields substantially if the farmer has no irrigation system in place. Meanwhile ten inches of rain in a wet February probably does little good for the crop that hasn’t been planted yet.
Research has shown that Irrigated farmland can yield as much as three times that of dryland farming (or non-irrigated land) with normal rainfall. In the 1980s and 1990s we had grown accustomed to cheap grains. Times have changed. Corn was trading at over $7.00 a bushel Wednesday. At those prices the additional cost of irrigating is much more than cost effective.
For example if a 100 acre corn field that yields ~70 bushels per acre with dryland farming were irrigated leading to a simple 50% increase in average yield that would put an additional $24,500 into that farm family’s income. If it doubled the yield from that field then that farm family would have another $49,000 to spend and invest in their local rural Alabama economy. Irrigating would also make that farm family’s income much more predictable and repeatable as their yields would likely be much more consistent. Crop production generates far more revenue per acre for both the landowner and the local economy than does timber production or conservation set asides like CRP.
ACES Director Gary Lemme said, “Alabama farmers now have an opportunity to transform their production systems, yield goals and profitability through the adoption of irrigation technology. Extension is committed to providing farmers with the research-based information necessary for them to decide if irrigation is right for them and what type of systems will enhance the sustainability of their farm operations.”
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery spoke to the group about the progress of the American farm bill and how that legislation could affect the Alabama immigration initiative.
Alabama State Senator Whatley (R) from Auburn sponsored legislation in the 2012 legislative session that would give farmers that install irrigation systems a tax credit. Sen. Whatley said, “This tax credit will enable agriculture producers to invest in infrastructure that will increase production, and in turn, increase economic output. That is what we are doing: making the economic environment friendlier to job creation and economic growth.” Whatley is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
The Agricultural Irrigation Systems Tax Credit legislation was signed into law by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) on May 14 and was sponsored in the Alabama House by Agriculture and Forestry Committee Chairman Chad Fincher, (R) from Semmes.
To read the Auburn news release about irrigation and the new Alabama irrigation tax credit: