The states of Alabama and Georgia offer a study in contrast when it comes to irrigated cropland. It’s estimated that between 50 to 60 percent or more of Georgia’s farmland is currently irrigated, the result of a progressive expansion that has occurred in recent decades. However, only about 150,000 acres are irrigated in Alabama, a number that definitely ranks it high on the list of “under-irrigated” states.

But there are rumblings of change in Alabama. A state tax incentive from a couple of years ago is believed to have spurred some modest growth in irrigated cropland, and farmers appear to be more interested now in insuring themselves against the calamity of drought.

If there’s an advantage in Alabama’s irrigation deficit, it’s that the state can look to its neighbors such as Georgia and learn from their mistakes, especially in the area of restrictions and regulations, which continue to evolve in most of the Southeastern United States.

“Alabama should take advantage both of the mistakes and progress of neighboring states,” says Wesley Porter, who was recently named the irrigation specialist for both the University of Georgia Extension Service and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, a position that has him regularly crossing state lines to help farmers with their irrigation issues and concerns.

“It is sometimes difficult to admit that you will see the same problems as neighboring states, but the regulations and problems will always come,” says Porter.

In terms of irrigation use, Georgia has been an especially progressive state, says Porter, and there are some practices in Georgia that can be quickly replicated in Alabama without the trial and error period that Georgia farmers initially endured.

Possibly the biggest obstacle to expanding irrigation in Alabama is the accessibility of its water supply, says Porter.

“Even though Alabama has a plentiful water supply, it is not as easy to reach as it is in Georgia.  Georgia has a very shallow aquifer that much of the southern part of the state has access to.  This makes it very easy to install wells and have adequate water supplies. However, Alabama, does not have easy access to these types of aquifers,” he says.

Typically, says Porter, the water supply throughout much of Alabama comes from surface water. 

“Surface water has many challenges. These challenges can range from just pumping, to the source being too far from the site, and to not having adequate flows during drought periods, which is when you would have the highest water demand for crops,” he says.