Expanding crop irrigation would be a good investment for Alabama, even better than automobile plants and other industries that receive the bounty of state incentives, says Dick McNider, Professor Emeritus at the University of Alabama at Huntsville and leader of the Alabama Irrigation Initiative.

“Should we provide incentives to help expand irrigation? There are some views that we should just let the free market do everything, and let the chips fall where they may, but we don’t live in a perfect world,” says McNider.

In the past 10 to 15 years, he says, Alabama has done a lot to attract industry to the state. “All our automotive plants were brought in with state incentives, with the most recent being the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in Mobile County. At least with that one, all of the incentives were out on the table, and the state made about an $811 million investment.

“The construction of that steel mill cost about $1.9 billion. The cost of putting 50 percent of our current land in irrigation would be about $860 million,” says McNider.

If the state invested the same percentage that was invested in the steel mill, he says, the return would be two and a half times that projected for the mill, he says.

“Over the past 50 years, Alabama has lost a lot of row-crop agriculture to CRP set-asides or timberland. We’ve lost that turnover of dollars in our rural economies, so there are incentives for the state. We need to do something to stem the flow of lost agriculture in the state. It is important for a robust economy to bring more irrigation into the state,” he says.

 (You might also be interested in Alabama has potential to increase irrigated cropland, but barriers remain. And increasing irrigated acres in Alabama isn’t going to be easy. To see details on more of the obstacles standing in the way, see Obstacles still hinder irrigation in Alabama).

The Alabama Irrigation Initiative concluded that there were four major barriers to expanding irrigation in the state, says McNider, and he has added a fifth one.