Showers slight relief to Southeast drought

Although some areas of the Southeast received scattered showers during early to mid-July, crops such as corn and cotton still suffered in many regions, and poor pasture conditions were reported in several states.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported on July 17 that a wetter pattern had provided some drought relief in the southern Appalachians and the southern Atlantic region, with local rainfall amounts exceeding 5 inches in some areas. However, heavy rainfall largely bypassed the area in the western Carolinas rated as exceptionally dry — the most severe drought rating.

Elsewhere in the region, there were modest reductions in the severity of the drought.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the rain came too late for a portion of the Southeastern corn crop but aided pastures and some other summer crops.

In North Carolina, USDA rated the corn crop at 42 percent very poor to poor on July 13, an improvement from 47 percent the previous week. Another crop suffering due to the lack of rainfall was South Carolina's cotton, which was rated 33 percent very poor to poor on July 13.

Meanwhile, the portion of pastures rated very poor to poor included 59 percent in South Carolina, 35 percent in Georgia, and 31 percent in North Carolina. In addition, Southeastern stream flows and lake levels continued to reflect the effects of long-term drought.

In southern Florida, the average surface elevation of Lake Okeechobee rebounded to 10.17 feet on July 15, up from 9.27 feet on June 15 and 9.10 feet on July 15, 2007. Lake Okeechobee's record-low level of 8.82 feet occurred July 3, 2007.

Farther north, the surface elevation of northern Georgia's Lake Lanier stood at 1,055.89 feet on July 15, up just 5.1 feet from the record-low level established on Dec. 26, 2007. Normally, Lake Lanier reaches a level of just over 1,070 feet during the spring months and falls to a little below 1,064 feet during the autumn.

With drought becoming a way of life in much of the Southeast, growers are urged to take advantage of programs and methods that help to make crop irrigation more efficient. In southwest Georgia, the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission offers several cost-share opportunities through its Agriculture Water Conservation Program.

The Irrigation Pond Program, explains irrigation technician David Hall, is designed to help growers utilize as much surface water as possible. “The whole idea is to utilize that surface water such as rainfall to lessen the impact on underground aquifers. That is a 75 percent cost-share up to $50,000. Most farmers know it's a large investment to build a pond,” says Hall.

The program helps to offset the cost of either constructing a new pond or renovating an existing one. “These ponds catch off-season water that would be lost, and they provide a source to augment both surface and groundwater supplies,” he says.

Another program, the Mobile Irrigation Lab, is available to assist producers in improving the uniformity of their irrigation systems by installing end-gun shut-off valves and more efficient emitters.

“This is a free service,” says Hall. “If you have a center pivot irrigation system, we can come out and evaluate the pivot, walk over the field collecting water in a bucket, and taking all of that data and putting it into a computer program. That will tell us if your system is applying water uniformly.”

As systems age, water distribution patterns may change. In many cases, irrigation is scheduled when a portion of the field is stressed by hot, dry conditions. If water is not applied uniformly, this portion of the field may need to be irrigated before the rest of the field requires water.

A Mobile Irrigation Lab audit quantifies how uniform water is applied. Results of this field test include a graph showing the uniformity of the pivot starting at the pivot point and proceeding down the system toward the end-gun, an accurate application chart from a field-verified speed and water-flow test, and a detailed report showing leaks and needed repairs.

If uniformity results are poor, cost-share assistance is offered to the producer to retrofit the nozzle package to improve water application uniformity.

Through the use of GPS technology and aerial imagery, this program also helps to identify offsite water application from an end-gun and will provide cost-share assistance to equip the systems with an end-gun shutoff device when water is thrown on a public roadway or irrigation is applied to more that 0.5 acre of non-productive land.

In conjunction with the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., the GSWCC also is offering an incentive for growers to use the Irrigator Pro computerized irrigation scheduling program, says Hall. This program allows producers to track water-use needs and then target irrigation events to match these needs for peanuts, cotton and corn.

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