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August 14, 2009   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
August 14, 2009

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama farmers remember all too well the devastating droughts in 2006 and 2007, so the announcement today of $1.58 million in financial assistance for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) is especially welcome news, said Jerry A. Newby, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation.

"This is a great opportunity for farmers in our state. Irrigation can greatly increase our yields here in Alabama, and that's good not only for our farmers but for the entire state," he said. "Alabama is blessed with an abundance of rainfall, and through irrigation we can use it at the time of year when we need it for our crops."

Former U.S. Rep. Terry Everett of Alabama first introduced AWEP in Congress. U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama sponsored the senate version of the bill that included funding for the plan as part of the U.S. Farm Bill. As he lobbied for passage of the bill, Everett said it's much more efficient to irrigate crops in the Southeast than in the West, where much of the nation's food supply is produced.

"There are a lot of places out West that get 3 inches of water a year, and yet they are able to do a lot of agriculture," Everett said in an earlier interview. "We get anywhere from 50-56 inches of water a year (in Alabama), but it comes at the wrong time. It comes during the winter and early spring. In addition, our soils don't hold water very well. So what we end up with is, during the summer, we have a deficit of water for our crops."

Everett predicted that as the water shortage in Western states increases, agricultural opportunities would increase for Southeastern states.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Dr. William Puckett of Alabama announced the $1.58 million in financial assistance Friday. He said NRCS offices would begin accepting applications for AWEP Aug. 17. The signup period will end Aug. 25. Funding will be provided on a cost-share basis, with farmers providing a matching portion of the money for the project.

Alabama AWEP will focus on the installation of upland storage ponds. Practices that will be available include, constructing upland irrigation storage ponds, installing pumps and pipelines to fill storage ponds, irrigation system improvements or irrigation efficiency enhancements to improve the efficiency of and reduce the energy needs of existing irrigation systems and installation of soil moisture sensors and water meters to monitor and improve irrigation efficiencies.

Funding for this AWEP project in Alabama was a direct result of a grant proposal by the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee, the Alabama University Irrigation Initiative, University of Alabama-Huntsville, Auburn University and Alabama A&M University.

For information about AWEP, including application requirements, producers can visit their local NRCS field office listed in the telephone directory under U.S. Department of Agriculture or on-line at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov.

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