Farm Bill amendment friendly to local producers

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Senate has adopted an amendment to the Farm Bill that will help protect Alabama Farmers against drought and promote increased production.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the amendment that will expand irrigation in Alabama.

The amendment will need the support of the House of Representatives.

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Sessions said that the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), which receives about $60 million annually, provides financial and technical assistance for agricultural producers to implement agricultural water enhancement activities. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture currently requires AWEP participants to certify that their farm acres have a prior history of irrigation.

Sessions said that requirement prevents most Alabama farmers from being eligible for the program. In Alabama, less than five percent of farm acres are irrigated.

“My amendment, which was accepted by unanimous agreement in the Senate [May 21], eliminates this unwarranted restriction and will help ensure that more Alabama farmers are eligible for USDA irrigation assistance programs,” Session said.

State Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, said that any assistance that will help Alabama farmers put water on their crops is welcomed.

In March, Boothe and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur sponsored a bill that would give farmers five years from the date of a completed irrigation or reservoir construction project to claim a one-time maximum tax credit of $10,000. Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Irrigation Tax Credit Improvement Bill into law.

“We also changed the flow rates to open up more rivers and streams to irrigation,” Boothe said. “We want to provide any assistance possible to help our farmers be more competitive.”

Sessions’ amendment is one of those things, he said.

Irrigation sources available to Alabama farmers are rivers and streams, deep wells and impoundments.

Irrigation from all sources is costly and financial incentives are encouragement to farmers to make the investments that will increase their productivity.

“In recent years, we have been plagued by drought conditions and our corn crops have been hit especially hard,” Boothe said. “There are five times during the growing season that rain is critical to corn. Irrigation makes it possible for farmers to have water when they need it.

“That makes a huge difference in production. Irrigated land will produce four to five times the yield of dry cropland.

“We are fortunate that, in Alabama, we have good water supplies. We have the water. It’s a matter of getting it to the crops. We need to provided our farmers with the assistance they need to irrigate.”