Irrigation business reigns as farmers fight drought

Farmers desperate to save crops


Extreme drought conditions across the country are turning irrigation systems into big business. A mix of dry, scorching weather has irrigation equipment in high demand. According to reports, revenues are up a third or more at leading firms. In parts of Georgia, it's more common than not to see a farm with an irrigation system installed.

"2010 came along and temperatures were 100 degrees without much rain," said Georgia farmer Steve Doster. "We didn't make much cotton. It was pretty much a disaster."

Doster and his brother run their family farm in Pinehurst, Ga. This is his 20th season, and he is feeling the pain of the drought -- not just with the cotton, but his peanut crop, too.

"The last two years, our peanut crop has been a total loss; I mean, we harvested very few acres the last few years -- it's been destroyed," he said. It was a total loss."

Chuck Ellis, the extension coordinator for the University of Georgia in Dooly County, Ga., says it's not just the Dosters' farm that is getting irrigated; it's much of the county and farm regions across the state of Georgia.

"If it rains like it used to -- or it's supposed to -- a normal rainfall, whatever that is, then I guess you can make a living on a farm without irrigation if it did that every year," Ellis said. "The trend seems to be we're having more and more dry years. I think irrigation is becoming more of a necessity."

In 2008, farmers spent a whopping $2.1 billion to install, maintain and upgrade systems.

In Indiana, the number of registered new wells is growing at the fastest rate in two decades.

"I know it levels out crop yields, it levels out cash flow, it makes the bankers happy," Ellis said.  "They like to see the folks who borrow money from them have irrigation and actually they love it when they got a history of what they can actually do with the water and yields on their farm."

A report from climate experts in July says the Midwest was in the middle of the worst drought in 25 years and the lack of water has wide-ranging effects on everyone. If the crops do not get water -- we do not get produce on our kitchen table. According to the most recent federal data from 2008, about 94 percent of the nation's four major commodity crops -- corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton -- are grown on farmland that relies on rain for moisture.

Elton Sharp, the owner of Sharp Systems, has been in the irrigation business for 30 years. Not only are these his lifelong friends that are suffering, the influx of business can be frustrating because he wants to take time off -- something he just cannot do.

"It's not every day, but I haven't gotten up to 100 calls a day," Sharp said. "The last two years has been extremely busy -- some of the busiest in the past 30 years."

He says without irrigation, it's almost impossible for farmers to grow a crop that can be profitable.

"Twenty years ago we were trying to convince people that they need them, and now we just need to convince them we have the right pivot for them," Sharp said.



Elizabeth Prann currently serves as a Washington-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). She joined the network in 2006 as a production assistant. Click here for more information on Elizabeth Prann