WATER MANAGEMENT PLAN TOPS AGRIBUSINESS COUNCIL LIST
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A comprehensive water management plan topped a lengthy list of concerns voiced as the Alabama Agribusiness Council held a series of three listening sessions around Alabama last week.
|Keith Gray, director of national affairs for the Alabama Farmers Federation, tells the Alabama Agribusiness Council that there should be no changes in the farm bill until a World Trade Organization agreement is reached.|
The sessions, held Nov. 8 in Cullman, Nov. 9 in Montgomery, and Nov. 10 in Headland, were intended to gather information that would enable the council to develop a plan to address the state's agricultural needs.
The Alabama Agribusiness Council, whose primary purpose is to work with groups and organizations to effectively promote and enhance the business of agriculture and forestry in Alabama, had been charged with developing such a plan at the recommendation of the Governor's Commission on the Future of Family Farming and Alabama Agriculture and Agribusiness.
In addition to establishing a comprehensive water management plan, the council was told:
-- Pro-agricultural policies should be adopted on both state and federal levels
-- More farmers should become pro-active, serving on city and county water boards
-- Rural economic development is needed to develop an infrastructure that will keep farming profitable
-- Agribusiness needs incentives, such as agricultural sales tax exemptions or other tax breaks
-- The state needs a trained agricultural economic development specialist
-- The agricultural labor shortage should be addressed
-- More research dollars are needed
-- Trade issues in the face of the pending farm bill could make an already unfavorable balance even worse, and greater attention should be paid to the Port of Mobile's role in Alabama agriculture
-- Rural transportation needs, such as rail, roads and airports, should be bolstered to ensure a strong farming economy
-- The state should play a greater role in educating the public about agriculture's role
"Developing A Strategic Plan For Agribusiness In Alabama" featured a panel of experts addressing various agricultural concerns. For example, Thomas Dozier III, chairman of the Federal Lank Bank Association of South Alabama, said stagnant commodity prices and escalating input costs have led to farmers having the lowest purchasing power in history as ag credit in the U.S. has reached $235-$250 billion.
Another speaker, Keith Gray, director of national affairs for the Alabama Farmers Federation, said it's important that no changes are made in the current farm bill until a World Trade Organization agreement is hammered out. Furthermore, he pointed out that despite the criticism of federal farm policies, funding is less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
Regional Extension Agent Mark Hall, noting that the world consumes two barrels of oil for every one barrel discovered, stressed the importance of the U.S. developing alternative, renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. "Anything could happen to Saudi Arabia and we're in a different ballgame," Hall said.
"We need your suggestions on what we can do," moderator Tyrone Spearman, editor of the Peanut Farm Market News, said as he began the Montgomery session. "We can work up a plan here in Alabama. You have got some assets that are unbelievable in this state, assets that we are not utilizing."
Among those chief assets is water, said Dr. Jim Hairston, professor of agronomy and soils at Auburn University and an Extension water quality scientist. He attributes Alabama's loss of agricultural products over the past 50 years to its failure to irrigate.
"Agricultural loss has devastated rural economies across the Southeast, and I think probably more so in Alabama, and that's largely because Alabama has not made use of irrigation to revitalize the rural economy," said Hairston, a member of the Alabama Irrigation Initiative. "Rural towns depending on local farming industry simply died out because if water was not available you could not compete with agriculture in other parts of the country."
He noted how neighboring Georgia has increased its irrigation 30 percent over the past 30 years, while Alabama has only increased its irrigated acreage by 2 percent.
"But I think the times are changing," he said. "I think there's a great window of opportunity for Alabama and the Southeast -- if we can get water to the ends of the field at a cheap rate to bring agriculture back to Alabama."
Hairston said studies indicate 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of ethanol. "If you're going to offset Arabian oil with ethanol (which would require 60 million acre feet of water per year), the only place you have enough water to do that is the Southeast," said Hairston. "Alabama gets about 148 million acre feet of rainfall per year. We're one of the most water-rich areas of the country. Plus, Alabama gets a huge amount of runoff from other states that's not being used by slope down or storage. There's no such thing as a water shortage in Alabama -- we just need to better manage what we have.
"The impact of irrigation in the state of Alabama may not be exact," said Hairston, "but if you do whatever it takes to put 2 million acres in irrigation, you can calculate the amount added to the economy to be between $500 million to $750 million. That's a tremendous boost to the economy."
For more information, visit the Alabama Irrigation Initiative website at http://irrigate.uah.edu or the Alabama Agribusiness Council at http://www.alagribusiness.org/.