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May 23, 2013   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
May 23, 2013

MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 23 -- Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell praised the U.S. Senate’s adoption of an amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., expanding access to a federal irrigation program.

Alabama lags behind other Southern states in irrigated farm land, utilizing just 2.5 percent of available water, according the state’s climatologist. Sessions’ amendment to the Senate version of the farm bill would allow farmers who’ve never irrigated their crops to apply for assistance under the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP).

“We are very appreciative of Sen. Sessions’ efforts on this amendment,” said Parnell. "The Alabama Farmers Federation recognizes the importance of increasing irrigated land and the potential positive impact this could have on Alabama agriculture. Alabama is blessed with an abundance of water. This program allows farmers to use a portion of this precious resource in an environmentally responsible way to reduce risks, increase productivity and ensure food security.”

Sessions explained current AWEP provisions prevent many Alabama farmers from taking advantage of the program.

“USDA currently limits AWEP to farms that have been irrigated previously—a requirement that prevents most Alabama farmers from being eligible for this useful program,” Sessions said. “In Alabama, less than 5 percent of farm acres are irrigated. My amendment, which was accepted by unanimous agreement in the Senate (Tuesday), eliminates this unwarranted restriction and will help ensure that more Alabama farmers are eligible for USDA irrigation assistance programs.”

AWEP invests about $60 million annually in irrigation nationwide. It is a voluntary conservation initiative providing financial and technical assistance to farmers. Qualifying projects include upland water storage ponds, irrigation system improvements and water quality improvement efforts.

This week, the Senate began consideration of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954), also known as the farm bill. The bill consolidates AWEP and similar programs into a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Sen. Sessions’ amendment (No. 945) clarifies that, when providing agricultural water enhancement assistance under the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, USDA cannot limit eligibility on the basis of “prior irrigation history.” The provision applies in states where irrigation has not been used significantly for agricultural purposes.

The General Fund budget approved this year by the Alabama Legislature includes $90,674 for AWEP. The federal government provides $9 for every $1 the state invests in the program.

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