East Alabama farmer Mitch Lazenby witnessed unprecedented disasters on his family’s farm in 2009 and 2010, but with an innovative new irrigation plan in the works, he’s keeping his eye on the future.

“In 2009 and in 2010, we had catastrophic crop losses,” says Lazenby, who farms in Lee County, Ala.

“My family has been farming since the late 1800s, and that has never happened here. In those 100-plus years, we’ve always had at least some crop to harvest.”

In 2009, he explains, he planted primarily peanuts, and it began to rain in the fall. “It never stopped, and we lost the entire crop. Then, in 2010, when we planted mostly cotton, it didn’t rain past May 31, and all the way into the fall. In two consecutive years, we never put any harvest equipment in the field,” he says.

Lazenby normally rotates two-thirds cotton and one-third peanuts with one-third cotton and two-thirds peanuts. “This past year, we had a yield of approximately 700 to 800 pounds per acre on our cotton, which is phenomenal compared to the previous two years. We’re still behind the eight-ball, because it takes a long time to get those funds built back up. I don’t know how long it’ll take us. We know that nothing is absolute in farming, but we’re still swinging and we’re fighting back,” he says.

One of the ways he’s fighting back is through undertaking an irrigation project aimed at converting under-utilized land into irrigated cropland.

“It’ll still be a very small percentage of our cropland that’s irrigated, but we’re trying to do anything that’ll help,” says Lazenby. “We’ve done more in the last three catastrophic years that we’ve had on this farm than we’ve ever done before, as far as the amount of resources and the money we’ve spent. So in one sense, it’s amazing that we’ve done as well as we have. As tough as things have been, we’re trying to position ourselves so that we can take advantage when conditions do improve.”