While irrigation or the lack thereof has not been much of an issue in Alabama so far this growing season, farmers in the state are still showing a renewed interest in insuring their crops against the risk of drought.

“There’s a lot of interest in irrigation in this region,” says Rudy Yates, regional Extension agent for 13 counties in west-central Alabama. “A lot more center pivots are going in – we’ve got first-time irrigators and others who are expanding existing irrigation.”

During a recent irrigation meeting with growers at the Black Belt Research and Extension Center in Marion Junction, Ala., Yates said crops were variable in the region this year.

“We’ve seen corn from tasseling to only chest-high. Soybeans are at various stages, and we’ve seen kudzu bugs in the field, though they haven’t reached economic thresholds yet. Spring rains have pushed everyone back, and some farmers are just now finishing their wheat harvest. Producers who are going behind wheat with soybeans are still planting,” he said in late June.

Wesley Porter, Extension irrigation specialist for both Alabama and Georgia, told growers attending the Marion Junction meeting that their voices needed to be heard as Alabama begins work on a comprehensive water plan.

“There are different issues that’ll be considered, such as water availability, and while it doesn’t seem relevant now, it will be in the very near future,” says Porter. “Surface water is plentiful, but it’s not always easy to access it. In the near future, Alabama will be putting together a comprehensive water plan, and as many producers as possible need to be involved in that plan.

Whatever direction Alabama takes as far as a statewide comprehensive water policy, it’s important, says Porter, that farmers stay involved in the process from the very beginning.

“Growers need to ensure that they voice their opinions and needs in the development of water plans. The trouble is that typically these plans and associated legislation and laws are developed by politicians with the average citizen and most populous regions in mind. 

“Typically, farmers get left out or are not properly considered in these cases. The wording of a particular bill or law could inadvertently hurt a farmer because there was no one there to voice the correct situations. Also, we usually do not see too many farmers involved in politics. However we need the representation of farmers, especially when a plan of this sort is being developed. A comprehensive water plan should consider both drinking water for large metropolitan areas and sufficient flows for downstream requirements. Growers need to be present and have a voice so that they are not left out of these plans.”

In Georgia, he says, the city of Atlanta has been influential in the water planning process because that’s where the population is centered.

“Farmers in the Flint River District in south Georgia have been willing to make investments and to show that they’re good stewards of their water resources. If they don’t have a plan to show that they’re managing water, they know it’ll be taken away from them,” says Porter.

Legislation passed in Georgia this year addresses irrigation efficiencies by requiring that all agricultural withdrawal permits in the Flint River Basin using overhead irrigation achieve irrigation application efficiencies of at least 80 percent by 2020. Mobile irrigation systems and solid-set irrigation sprinklers would be required to achieve 60 percent efficiency.

Currently, Alabama basically is operating under riparian water rights, but that will change quickly, says Porte