From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
I hope some of you were able to join us at the Agricultural Development Forum in early February. There were many high-lights of the program, but one I wanted to share with readers was the announcement of the "Strategic Plan for Protecting Agricultural Water Resources."
This plan has been a year in the making, through the efforts of the Agricultural Water Resources Work Group, N.C. Farm Bureau and the Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation. It was written by Ed Emory, Stan Dixon and Wanda Sykes, with input from many others. In addition, a $100,000 grant from Altria Group Inc. supported the development of the plan along with hosting a series of educational public workshops.
As we have seen from past droughts, when water resources start to become scarce, every water user faces greater scrutiny – from large corporate users right down to individuals. Those of us in the agricultural community quickly realized we needed to have a better understanding of actual agricultural water use versus the perceived water use or our farmers and agribusinesses would suffer.
So in 2008, a survey of agricultural water use was conducted to determine how much water farmers and agribusinesses were using on an annual basis. I think a lot of people assumed the number would be high, but in reality, agricultural users actually accounted for 1 percent of all water withdrawals.
One of the things that this survey showed us was that reality and public perception were far apart where water use was concerned, but it also showed us that the ag community needed to be proactive in ensuring future agricultural water needs are considered and met, not legislated away. North Carolina is a growing state, and the more people and businesses we have, the greater the demand for water will be.
That was one of the catalysts behind this strategic plan.
There are a lot of details in the plan that I cannot do justice to in this column. I would encourage you to download a copy of the plan from www.ncagwater.org to read more closely.
On a broad level, this strategic plan aims to meet the following objectives:
- Identify and report North Carolina's agricultural water infrastructure needs, including technical and financial assistance needed.
- Continue, expand and enhance the state's agricultural water use survey.
- Research, identify and educate agricultural water users on the best practices for water conservation and efficiency.
- Implement a cost-share program to assist farmers and agricultural landowners who adopt best practices to conserve, develop, protect and efficiently use ground and surface water resources.
- Establish an ongoing educational program on agricultural water conservation that mitigates the effects of development pressures and future droughts while protecting water resources for future agricultural use.
I have said many times, we don't want to come out of the next drought both thirsty and hungry. And we don't. The world population is growing and with that growth, the United Nations estimates that farmers will need to produce 50 percent more food in 2030 than is currently being produced. We'll have to have adequate natural resources to meet that demand – and that includes access to water.
I cannot thank Altria enough for their generous support of this project. I also appreciate the support of N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, who co-chaired the Agricultural Water Resources Work Group with me, and the support of Cecil Settles, executive director of the Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation.
I hope you will take the time to read over this plan. As we get ready to embark on another growing season, it is important that we are careful and efficient with our limited natural resources.