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Terrell County Success Stories

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Sub-surface Irrigation System Helps Row Crop Farmer Survive Drought

By Amelia Hines, Athens, Public Affairs Specialist, Watkinsville

Ronnie Lee has always been involved in Agriculture. He ventured into farming in the early 1980s with roughly 40-acres.

“I started off real small,” Lee said. Over the next three decades, Lee’s operation grew bit by bit. In 1995, he bought more land and built a cotton gin. The Terrell County farmer now runs a 7,500 row crop operation.

Even though his operation was doing well, Lee wanted to improve sustainability by improving his irrigation method. In 1998, he learned about sub-surface drip irrigation when he visited a farm in Arizona that was benefiting from that type of irrigation. Lee felt that sub-surface irrigation would work well with small and irregularly shaped fields in Georgia as well.

  In 2010 the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) formed a partnership with the Georgia Cotton Commission to install sub-surface drip irrigation on several farms throughout South Georgia through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). Lee was interested in participating in the project on one of his farms.

He applied for the EQIP contract and was approved to install the sub-surface irrigation. He has installed sub-surface micro drip irrigation system on 80 acres of his property now.

The sub-surface irrigation system allows Lee to more efficiently provide water to crops and avoid water loss through evaporation and run-off. A well pumps 325 gallons of water a minute for the system.

Lee said, “EQIP’s been a good program. Before we had this system, we couldn’t efficiently irrigate these fields because the shape and size of the fields were irregular. Now, this system allows us to irrigate these fields.”

NRCS District Conservationist Rich Hosmer worked with Lee on the irrigation project and agreed that the new system has helped improve water accessibility to difficult to reach areas of the property. “In some areas, the water availability just isn’t there to operate a center pivot. The sub-surface drip system allows crops to be irrigated using less water,” Hosmer said.

In addition to installing the sub-surface irrigation, Lee has taken conservation to another level by retro-fitting pivots, converting diesel irrigation motors to electric, and installing grassed waterways on other sections of the row crop farm.

“We’re trying to maximize productivity and minimize abusing the land and water resources.”

Lee said that he also wants future generations to take the challenge and take conservation seriously.

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Dawson Couple Gets Much Needed Irrigation System Through EQIP

John and Julia Canty moved to Terrell County less than five years ago, but in that short time the couple have grown a small garden into a half-acre operation in their backyard.

When John Canty isn’t traveling the country on his big rig, he and his wife dedicate much of their free time to farming.

Canty grows a variety of produce that includes collards, okra, peas, tomatoes, squash, watermelon and zucchini.

Even though it may seem like a small accomplishment, Canty still gets excited when he sees a small seed sprout.

“You really have to really want to do this. You can’t be in too big a hurry when you’re farming. It takes patience,” Canty explained.

At times, it has been a tough job especially without a steady supply of water.

Through the technical assistance provided by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the funding provided through an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract, the Cantys have been able to dig a well and install a solid set irrigation system in their vegetable and fruit plots.

“We can get water to it now. Before, we’d have to drag a hose and get stuck out there. It was like a handicap. EQIP has been a big help,” John Canty said.

When asked what he likes best about EQIP, John said that District Conservationist Rich Hosmer and Soil Conservation Technician Melissa Golden were always willing to help. “They believe in helping you whenever they can,” Canty said.

Hosmer and Golden said that while it’s their job to help landowners whenever they can, the Cantys have made it an enjoyable process.

“The Cantys are really good to work with. Even though he has a limited amount of land, Mr. John is real conservation minded with what he has. He wants to do what’s best for the land,” Hosmer said.

And, now that the couple, who have been married 42 years, has a steady supply of water to help them grow their farm, they will have an easier time of doing what they say is best for the land.

Canty also wanted to let other small or beginning farmers in Georgia know that whatever their issue may be, don’t hesitate to seek assistance. “If there is something to do, you have fine people here to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask,” Canty said.

Terrell County is a designated StrikeForce county in Georgia. The USDA StrikeForce Initiative is designed to help relieve persistent poverty in high-poverty counties.


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