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Alabama is the fourth wettest state in the country, receiving 58.3 inches of rain on average per year. With that much free water falling from the sky, the state’s farmers have long relied on precipitation to water their crops. In fact, only about 15% of Alabama’s available farmland is irrigated.

Researchers at the University of Alabama recently launched a study that could change that.

A team led by Dr. Hamid Moradkhani, an endowed engineering professor and the director of UA’s Center for Complex Hydrosystems Research, will be investigating whether more irrigation-fed farms in Alabama could be beneficial to farmers and the state’s agricultural industry.

“Not only is (irrigation) more stable and more efficient, but we are also concerned about boosting the economy of this region,” Moradkhani said. “I know there are a few obstacles and a few barriers associated with this, however, I think we can significantly contribute to the state’s economic resurgence.”

Agriculture, forestry and related industries contributed $70.4 billion to Alabama’s economy in 2010, according to a report published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.That means agriculture and related industries accounted for nearly 40% of the state’s Gross Domestic Product and 22% of the state’s workforce. Alabama’s agricultural industry is crucial to the state’s economy and Moradkhani believes that it could receive a major boost if more farmers used irrigation practices.

Moradkhani is optimistic that the study will highlight the overwhelming advantages of irrigation, but he understands that changing the perception of irrigation among Alabama’s farmers will prove difficult.

“(The farmers) say ‘Ok, well we have a lot of water so why would I do that?’ ” Moradkhani said. “… Perhaps younger farmers can have that vision in their lifetime that this will be more profitable and may be more receptive to this. This is something that we are hoping to address in our outreach program.”

Throughout the course of the study, Alabama researchers will communicate with and gather feedback from over 60 farmers who operate in the Mobile River Basin.

The study was made possible by a four-year, $1.75 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Moradkhani will be aided in his work by several other civil and environmental engineering professors, including Dr. Mukesh Kumar, Dr. Hamed Moftakhar and Dr. Glenn Tootle. Dr. Nicholas Magliocca, a UA assistant professor of geography, is also involved along with Dr. Denis Nadolnyak from Auburn University.

The researchers will present their project for the first time at the Alabama Water Conference in Sept.

Once the study is complete, the research team will disseminate the information that collected and analyzed to farmers and lawmakers across Alabama and the southeast.

“By demonstrating how successful this is, we are going to actually deliver this to other states – Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana as well,” Moradkhani said. “I was in contact with many people from those states who are interested in this, but they want to see a success story. This is giving us a chance, a privilege, to do something different from the past to demonstrate that this is going to be successful.”

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