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Irrigation Project Could Conserve Resources, Save Farmers Money

A cotton field irrigated with center pivot automated sprinkler system
 

Go with the Flow

Irrigation Project Could Conserve Resources, Save Farmers Money

Story by Eva Moore, SCDA, and Tyler Brown, SCDNR

This story appears in the Feb. 6, 2020 issue of the South Carolina Market Bulletin.

Farmers across South Carolina can apply to be part of a new project to improve the efficiency of their center pivot irrigation systems.

The pilot project would offer free consultations, pre-and post-audits, and retrofitting of irrigation systems to agricultural producers. The project’s goal is to determine the feasibility of a statewide Mobile Irrigation Lab program for South Carolina.

“This is going to help put one more tool in farmers’ toolbox,” said Yvonne Kling, Chair of the Aiken Soil and Water Conservation District, which is spearheading the project. “If they save water, they save the energy it takes to put out the water. Their electric or gas bill should be less, and they could also save on inputs like fertilizer.”

Kling estimates the consultations could improve the efficiency of the average working center pivot system by 10 to 15 percent.

The project came about when a landowner approached the Aiken Soil and Water Conservation District with the idea. Other Southeastern states, notably Florida, have had success with state-funded Mobile Irrigation Labs that help conserve resources and save farmers money.

The Aiken Soil and Water Conservation District secured primary funding for a pilot project through a federal agreement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). While the NRCS was willing to provide significant funding, matching funds were still needed to fully fund this project. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources stepped in to assist with state funding, along with contributions from the Palmetto AgriBusiness Council, AgSouth Farm Credit, and American Forest Management. Clemson Cooperative Extension will also be assisting with this project and conducting parallel studies on selected agricultural center pivots.

For the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, participating in the project just makes sense, said Assistant Commissioner Aaron Wood.

“Farmers are the original conservationists,” Wood said in a Facebook Live video announcing the project. “They want to take care of their land. They raise their families on this land; they’re depending on the land to be productive.”

Funding the project is a way for SCDA to nurture agribusiness in South Carolina while also promoting water conservation, Wood said.

Kling says her district aims to choose an initial group of farmers for the project, with applications due by February 15, 2020. More farmers will be selected in the second and third years of the project.

The application and information on selection criteria are available at aikensoilandwater.com. Applications can be emailed to MILpilot.sc@gmail.com.


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