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Don’t let winter’s rainfall make you forget about looming water issues

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• In case you need a reminder of how important water issues are to the future of farming, Georgia’s state legislature, in its just-concluded session, came perilously close to passing a law that would have enforced efficiency requirements on agricultural irrigation systems.

It’s difficult to think too much about drought, water-use efficiency, and other such things when the ground underneath your feet is so wet you can’t get your planter into the field.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, long-term drought conditions have literally disappeared from parts of the lower Southeast this past winter and into the early days of spring.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s most recent map is definitely a departure from the norm. Most of Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle are white, meaning the region has received enough rainfall to avoid any designations of drought.

It’s not even abnormally dry in the majority of the region — a most unusual set of conditions for this time of year.

But in case you need a reminder of how important water issues are to the future of farming, Georgia’s state legislature, in its just-concluded session, came perilously close to passing a law that would have enforced efficiency requirements on agricultural irrigation systems.

A bill that sought to amend the Flint River Drought Protection Act also proposed several changes that would have directly affected Georgia farmers. But the complexity of the bill coupled with the increased volume of pending legislation resulted in it never receiving floor action.

This bill would have made the drought declaration and bidding process optional instead of mandatory. In addition, it would have required that all agricultural withdrawal permits in the Flint River basin achieve irrigation application efficiencies of at least 80 percent by the year 2020.

And while there wasn’t time during this session to get the legislation through the Georgia General Assembly and onto the governor’s desk for signing, rest assured it’ll be reconsidered next year and probably passed in some form.

Meanwhile, in Alabama — long considered one of if not the most under-irrigated states in the Southeast — farmers, armed with a brand-new tax incentive, were installing new pivots from one end of the state to the other.

This past year, the Alabama Legislature passed the Irrigation Incentives Bill, which provides a state income tax credit of 20 percent of the costs of the purchase and installation of irrigation systems.

The bill also allows the tax credit on the development of irrigation reservoirs and water wells, in addition to the conversion of fuel-powered systems to electric power.

The one-time credit cannot exceed $10,000 per taxpayer, and it must be taken in the year in which the equipment or reservoirs are placed into service. Based on reports from the field, farmers were taking full advantage of the tax break.

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