Throughout his tenure as director of what was then known as the Alabama Extension Service, the late P.O. Davis lost no opportunity to encourage farmers to irrigate.

Writing in the Dec. 28, 1951 edition of Farm and Ranch, Davis related the story of a Tennessee Valley corn producer whose crop looked especially promising. The farmer diligently followed all the recommendations of his Extension agent but in the end garnered only a third of the harvest he had expected.

Weather — or, more specifically, the lack of adequate rainfall — was the culprit.

In one sense, it was a deeply ironic story, considering the farmer was located only a short distance from an almost boundless supply of water, the Tennessee River. Like so many Alabama producers then and now, he failed to heed repeated calls for irrigation and ended up paying a heavy price.

Adding further irony to this story, Alabama farmers ended up enduring more than four years of drought following the publication of Davis’s article.

Even today, more than 60 years later, few Alabama farmers are irrigating, despite the repeated calls of agricultural researchers, whose research findings have demonstrated the immense value this practice confers.

Research, crop modeling and the real-life experiences of producers have consistently demonstrated that adequate irrigation would enable Alabama to compete effectively with the West and Midwest, the regions of the country most prized for their agricultural output.

What Alabama lacks — the arid West’s water infrastructure and Midwest’s bountiful supplies of deep water-holding topsoil — it more than makes up with abundant rainfall, an average 55 inches of rainfall each year.