What is in this article?:
• Potential economic benefits could be in the billions of dollars, easily rivaling any other economic development in the state.
• “I’m not saying I think Alabama will make a quantum leap in increased agricultural production and irrigation,” says Sam Fowler. “But we can increase our agricultural production and reduce our deficit in areas such as corn and soybeans.”
INCREASING IRRIGATED CROPLAND in Alabama could add billions of dollars to the state’s economy, says Sam Fowler, director of the Auburn University Water Resources Center.
“We can compare favorably to the Midwest and West in terms of yield with irrigation in Alabama. There’s no doubt that irrigation can increase yields over a longer period of time and reduce the variability of yields.”
The big question, he adds, is whether irrigation is more profitable. “There are situations in Alabama where it can be profitable, but there are variabilities. Comparing irrigated corn production in Alabama with corn production in Iowa, the higher the price of corn, the better we can compete with farmers in the Corn Belt.”
There are concerns nationwide about the environmental impacts of agricultural irrigation, says Fowler.
“Agricultural irrigation gets a bad reputation in many parts of the country. That’s why the federal focus now is on trying to reduce agricultural irrigation in the western part of the country. It has such a negative impact on the environment.
“But we believe if irrigation is done right in Alabama, we could support one million acres of irrigated agriculture with no negative environmental impacts. We have about two and a half million acres that is prime irrigatable agricultural land.”
Alabama also has an abundance of water, he continues. “We’ve proven that water can be harvested. We also have an abundance of groundwater. We have about 15 times as much groundwater as we do surface water.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find, and sometimes it’s pretty deep down. In cases where we do have surface water, it’s possible to collect and store winter water and then successfully irrigate with no negative impacts on the stream. This is the concept of the AWEP program.”
Alabama, he adds, has more water resources than most other states in the country.
You can’t look at the potential benefits of agricultural irrigation in Alabama without considering the state’s poultry industry, says Fowler.
“One of the best ways to look at this is to look at the relationship between irrigated crop production in the state and our poultry industry. The poultry industry is the 900-pound gorilla in Alabama agriculture.
“It has a tremendous agriculture impact. There are 75,000 jobs in the state that are related to the poultry industry.