Persistent drought conditions and record setting commodity prices have resulted in the "perfect storm" for those selling farm irrigation systems. The unprecedented demand for pivots, as they are referred to in the industry, is a clear sign that farming in south Georgia is changing.
"I have never seen anything like this before," said Mike Cox, co-owner of C & R Industrial Services, Inc., a Zimmatic Irrigation dealer based in Statesboro. "We sold and installed 64 systems last year, and have already sold 85 systems this year. As far as suppliers go, we are ranked 25th out of 200 in the country in sales. The demand has been tremendous."
Cox said he has 16 employees, and everyone is working six days a week from sun up until sun down installing systems.
"It is a very long day, but to get all of this equipment out into the fields, you just have to do it," he said. "We all understand that this is a very important time of year for our company, and for the farmers that are preparing to plant. We felt like this would be a very big year, we just had no idea that it would be this big."
Lee Cromley of Brooklet-based Cromley Farms has had irrigation installed to cover 400 acres of his family's farming operation.
"There is significantly less irrigation on this side of the state in comparison to the west side," Cromley said. "It looks like that is going to change. With input costs going up, you really need to maximize your yield, and irrigation helps to do that."
Jody Wilson, owner of Waynesboro-based BAS, Inc., has sold irrigation products to farmers, gardeners, landscapers and homeowners since 1978. Like Cox, he has never seen such demand for irrigation equipment, and has sold 100 units already this year.
"I feel like this boom is occurring for three different reasons," Wilson said. "First and foremost are commodity prices. They have remained relatively high. Secondly, there is low interest financing for this machinery. Third, farmers are afraid of a continued drought, and a possible moratorium on digging more wells in the future. This is a way to protect their livelihood."
Wilson believes the demand for irrigation will continue at this level for the next two to three years, eventually dropping off.
"The company that we deal with - Valley - is the largest irrigation manufacturer in the world," he said. "They saw this coming and ramped up their manufacturing facilities to handle the demand. I think everyone knows that at some point, the demand will level off to previous levels."
One crop particularly susceptible to drought conditions is corn. Because of this, the corn that is being planted in Bulloch County is for the most part under irrigation.
"We will farm about 2,500 acres with the majority of it being in cotton," Cromley said. "We don't plant much corn anymore, because you really need to be able to irrigate it. That really limits how much you can plant."
With the cost of inputs such as fuel, fertilizer, and seed continuing to rise, farmers are being forced to turn away from dry land farming according to Wilson.
"Dry land farming is a term used to describe farming that is dependent upon rain," he said. "I really believe that the days of dry land farming are becoming a thing of the past. They are fixing to come to an end. Since 1978, I have had to sell the idea of irrigation. I don't have to sell that idea anymore. Farmers need a dependable source of water for their crops in order to maximize yield. You have to maximize your yield to be profitable."
Wilson said like automobiles and gas mileage, irrigation equipment has also become extremely efficient.
"To farm today, you have to look at every penny that you are spending," he said. "Irrigation is becoming a big part of that picture."