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Can New Water Policy Affect Georgia Farmers?

 

By Amanda Huber
Southeast Editor

 
The state of Georgia is on the cusp of establishing a comprehensive statewide water management plan that will ultimately affect agriculture’s use of this most vital resource. Just how, no one can really say at this time.

Previous attempts to address Georgia’s specific water issues resulted in a variety of policies and management practices that were relatively localized. However, even before the current drought, it became clear that meeting the state’s future water challenges would require a more comprehensive management approach.

Now, after several years of work, the Georgia General Assembly will begin consideration of a comprehensive statewide water plan that will establish a set of policies to govern water management decisions and a set of management practices, which can be implemented to keep the use of water sustainable and protect water quality.

Putting A Plan In Place

Georgia state Senator John Bulloch (R-District 11), chairman of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs committee and also vice-chairman of the Natural Resources and Environ-ment committee, served on the water policy council, the group responsible for creating the draft water management plan that soon will come before the assembly. He is also a farmer.

“Atlanta is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States, and we are trying to find water for them,” Bulloch says. “We also have water situations with neighboring states.”

Essentially, he says, the drought has multiplied problems in the state.

“One of the things we try to address is to find ways to expand the surface water capacity by expanding existing water reservoirs and building new reservoirs,” says Bulloch, whose district in southwest Georgia covers some of the top counties in the nation for farm-gate values.

“We have many different resources in most of Georgia. However, the metro-Atlanta area is almost solely dependent on surface area water.”

What Will Be The Pecking Order?

Bulloch says that agriculture will have to understand that human consumption of water will always come first.

“However, as I’ve tried to tell my urban counterparts, we can provide water for human life through the use of bottled water,” he says. “We need enough water to provide food because that is also human consumption.

“When we talk about cotton, it’s a very important fiber crop, but we may have to look at the types of crops we put water on one day. What will become the pecking order, if you will?”

But Bulloch says these ideas are down the road. For now, the state needs to put a plan in place to help establish water districts and guide them in water management.

Richey Seaton, Georgia Cotton Commission executive director, says producers should monitor the issue closely, but not panic.

“While it is something to be concerned about, we are not in dire straits yet,” Seaton says. “We just have an issue in the state where the state’s water resources and population are out of sync.”

What To Expect In Cotton Acreage

Meanwhile, how does this problem affect cotton production today? Most everyone agrees that a continued drought may mean less cotton acres as producers look to the future.

“Basically, more than ever, there will be a competition for irrigated land,” says Glen Harris, University of Georgia soil specialist.

But Harris says one thing cotton has going for it is planting flexibility not found in other crops.

“Cotton being a smaller seed, it can be ‘dusted in,’ whereas peanuts or soybeans cannot,” he says.

Overall, Harris says the continued drought and competition for irrigated land will have an effect on how much cotton is planted.

“There’s already a lot of talk about double-cropping with soybeans on irrigated land,” he says. “However, what gets planted will depend a lot on the seed supply. We won’t get too crazy with planting different crops if we can get seed needed and in the proper maturity range.”

Contact Amanda Huber at (352) 486-7006 or ahuber@onegrower.com.

 


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