“The current cost of irrigating a grain, cotton or peanut crop in the Southeast ranges from $100-$150 per acre. When costs climb much higher than that, the economics of whether to irrigate or not irrigate comes into question,” Dunaway says.

In some parts of the U.S. the availability of water, regardless of its cost, is a determining factor in which crops a farmer can economically grow.

In the Southeast, water rights and riparian laws have not been a significant issue, but they are likely to be in the future.

As urban areas grow, the need to protect their water supplies will continue to grow and will continue to encroach on the availability for water for irrigation of farm land.

In the Upper Southeast, North Carolina leads the nation in farmland lost to urban and industrial encroachment and Virginia is in the top five.

Mills says parts of the Southeast are already seeing restrictions in new well permits and use of water from public waterways. These restrictions are almost certain to grow, he adds.

“While irrigation is the primary use of rural water, more efficient use of this water is an ongoing challenge for irrigation equipment dealers.

“Computer-based irrigation systems equipped with GPS technology allow modern systems to be incredibly efficient, Mills says.

“We are now getting into the new area of variable rate irrigation. Modern systems can not only monitor the efficient use of water, but they can provide water only where it is needed by plants, making more precise use of what is becoming a scarce and valuable natural resource,” he adds.


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