Georgia's latest irrigation survey reveals that between 1998 and 2000, the number of irrigated acres in the state increased by only two percent. Georgia farmers currently irrigate about 1.5 acres of crops a 31,000-acre increase since the last survey, according to the University of Georgia Extension Service 2000 Irrigation Survey.
The recent increase is a modest one compared to the mid-1980s and early 1990s, says Kerry Harrison, Extension agricultural engineer. During that period, irrigated acreage grew by about 20 percent each year, he says.
Most farmers consider periods of drought when planning their irrigation management. However, Harrison doesn't expect a dramatic increase in irrigated acres in the future, despite the current prolonged drought.
The reason is simple economics. We've irrigated about all of the land in Georgia that is profitable for the farmers, says Harrison.
About half of Georgia's total crop acreage is under some type of irrigation, he adds, with about 75 percent being under center pivots. It's no surprise, he says, that two-thirds of the irrigation used in Georgia goes toward watering the state's major crops, including cotton, peanuts and corn.
But commercially grown vegetables had the largest increase in irrigated acreage, notes Harrison. Since 1998, irrigated vegetable acreage increased 70 percent, helping Georgia become one of the leading vegetable-producing states.
All vegetables in Georgia are irrigated, says the engineer. Most farmers use drip systems for vegetable production. The move towards more irrigated vegetables will continue. With major commodity prices low, many farmers are trying to find ways to make their land more profitable, and established vegetable farmers are growing more acres.
Farmers are branching out into new areas. They are looking at alternative crops like some vegetables crops that are as profitable on the same or less acreage, says Harrison.
Water sources used for irrigation systems continue to follow the same trend as in the past. Groundwater supplies about 61 percent and surface water about 38 percent of the agricultural water in Georgia. The other one percent comes from wastewater sources.
The irrigation survey was conducted by county Extension agents in all of Georgia's 159 counties.