The Southeastern U.S. might be uniquely equipped with the right combination of natural resources to meet the nation’s growing demand for farm products.

“The Southeast may be in a sweet spot,” said Richard McNider from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. “We are one of the few places in the country with both the water and the land that will be needed to substantially increase farm production.

“That could become very important in the near future, as California and other western states continue to struggle with escalating water shortages. Southern New Mexico, for instance, recently set an all-time record for consecutive days without rain.”

Supported by an almost $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, McNider leads a team that will spend the next four years studying the environmental and economic impacts that widespread expansion of irrigated agriculture might have in the Southeast. The test region includes Alabama, Mississippi, North Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

“If the forecasts for climate change are accurate, the dry western states will get drier and the wet states will get wetter,” said McNider, a professor emeritus of atmospheric science at UAHuntsville.