Water policy is very complex and takes a good bit of studying to master. We do not believe that we have mastered the subject , but can provide a unique prospective and offer suggestions. Agriculture across the US, in Georgia especially, have been in debates for years over various issues regarding water and its agricultural use.
Hopefully those of you involved in production agriculture have been made aware of the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers new “Waters of the US” proposed rule (comment period ends July 21) regarding jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Basically this is to clarify the contradicting and confusing opinions stated in several different Supreme Court cases about what exactly is covered in the CWA. In short, the proposed rule states that “normal farming practices” will be exempt just like they currently are. The main concern here is that the EPA/Corp may say that “normal farming practices” are exempt, but the new rule makes it seem like pretty much any water flowing off of your property, whether that flow is always there or just runoff from rain, if that flow is hydrologically connected to a larger tributary falls under the CWA. This has huge implications for Georgia as many of our farming areas are surrounded by small creeks and drainage ditches that may eventually end up in a tributary or directly into a river. At first glance this may seem logical or like a good idea. But once you dive in deeper you realize that this would give the federal government drastically more control over private lands. Not to mention that this would open up farmers to a whole host of anti-agriculture groups who could sue a farmer if the group thought the farmer was not in compliance of the CWA (section 505 of CWA). This new proposed rule should be watched closely by all ag groups.
Regarding Georgia water policy: EPD Director Turner stated recently that we should learn more about the suit Florida brought against Georgia regarding water flows into the Apalachicola Bay. This is a continuation of the long time water wars between the states and I doubt it will end any time soon. Also this legislative year the Georgia General Assembly passed SB 213 to amend the Flint River Drought Protection Act. You can read about SB213 here (too much to summarize). The bill had lots of support throughout the ag community and we think it is a step in the right direction for Georgia. The main drive behind the bill was to protect farmers from third party lawsuits like the Aransas case in Texas and the various lawsuits in the western US regarding endangered species. SB213 also gives the state more authority during times of drought to help augment stream flows. This was controversial to some groups, but in the end I think everyone agreed that this solution is better than having the federal government regulate stream flows like they do in many western state. Farmers in some parts of California get a water ration from the government, and in times of drought they may not even get water, which means they basically can’t farm certain crops. Our hope is that Georgia never get to this situation.
As I write this (noon Friday April 18), most of South Georgia has received at least another 2 inches of rain today. That is on top of the 2-4 inches most folks got earlier this week. Add that to the 2 inches from the first week of April and everyone will agree that it is pretty wet right now. These same concerns were echoed this week at the American Cotton Producers (ACP) meeting we attended. Everyone from Mississippi to Virginia relayed that they were currently under very wet conditions. Our friends out West didn’t have the same problem; they are still in a prolonged drought. It is interesting to think about how this may affect the number of cotton acres planted this year. The window to plant corn in GA is almost gone and I think with this additional 2 inches it will be hard for anyone to plant much more corn. Corn had already taken a hit acreage wise and most of that acreage shifted into peanuts (according to projected planting reports). Cotton is projected to be about the same as last year – approximately 1.35 million acres. It may turn out that we actually plant more than that now given that it looks like the projections for peanuts shouldn’t go any higher. Soybeans may pick up some of the unplanted corn acres but I suspect cotton will get a bump as well. Another factor is that new crop cotton futures are holding at around 80 cents, about a 3 cent increase from when some of the projected plantings data was collected. I guess we will just have to wait a few more months to see how it plays out.
I had the pleasure of attending Appling County High School’s Ag Awareness Day this Friday. This event entailed 350 3rd graders from across Appling County. Many schools in South GA are starting to do these ag awareness days where high school students (or sometimes college professors) teach elementary school children the basics of agriculture. UGA Tifton Campus has been doing their own ag awareness day for years and it actually encompasses several counties.
The event went great and I actually left a little early because the FFA students were doing such as good job that they didn’t even need me there. The students really did some good research and were very knowledgeable about cotton and its impact in GA and Appling County in particular. The folks at Southeastern Gin and Peanut were very helpful in providing the students with seed cotton, ginned cotton, cotton seeds, and even some gin trash. As I mentioned, the FFA students did a very good job at teaching the 3rd graders about cotton and I commend their ag teachers for doing a great job in helping them prepare.
It’s that time of the year again when everyone is chomping at the bit ready to get into the field and plant. Most of the folks growing corn are already in the field planting. The one thing that always comes up this time of year is off-target herbicide damage from burn down applications (commonly called drift). For those of you not familiar, burn down is when you apply a herbicide over the top of your cover crop (usually some type of rye in Georgia cotton) in preparation for planting into this cover crop. Every year there are complaints and grumbles among neighboring farmers claiming some of their crops were damaged by their neighbors burn down. Usually this is more of a problem in the fruit and vegetable growing areas as most row crops (other than corn) are not planted yet. Sometimes the complaints come from gylphosate or glufosinate drift onto turfgrass or pasture land. On the hand, cotton farmers may complain of drift onto their cotton by turfgrass/pasture farmers later in the year.
Either way, regardless of who is at fault, we all need to be mindful of our neighbors and take into account their farming operation when we go to get into the field. Most folks understand that drift can occur and everyone applying herbicides knows the conditions that can cause drift. Here is a link to a good publication by former UGA Extension Engineer Paul Sumner that should be a good refresher for all those getting ready to go in the field.