“The ability to set and manage equipment remotely means fewer trips to the field, saving fuel, labor, and time,” Murdock said. “Dee River can control and monitor all pivots remotely, and get real time text message alerts on any cell phone about system performance or potential problems.

“There is a user friendly Web portal that provides a quick view of every pivot, including location, status, and water usage.  A full screen map provides a quick and easy way to monitor the entire farm and verify status of every machine at once. The system proactively notifies you of any potential issue or problem, allowing you to manage the exceptions.”

John McMillan, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, said the Dee River project “demonstrates how technology can be utilized to increase crop production, while conserving water and promoting sustainability.

“Alabama is well-positioned as a key player in the nation’s agriculture. We have 2.5 million acres of prime farmland, much of which can be irrigated, and we have abundant surface and groundwater resources. An Alabama Geological Survey shows 33.5 trillion gallons moving through 14 river basins and the coastal drainage area. In our 19 aquifer systems, our average 56 inches of yearly rainfall provides an equivalent of 145 million acre feet of water.”

With technology and irrigation, “crop production can be more certain,” McMillan said.

“The economic impact of agriculture in our state is enormous, but there is potential for even greater benefit. We have huge poultry and beef industries, which need tremendous amounts of feed each year, yet we’re now growing only 10 percent of the corn that we produced in 1950. Today’s total corn production in Alabama would feed our poultry flocks for only five days — just look at the additional potential to supply that one industry and keep more dollars in Alabama.”

There are issues and challenges in moving toward greater utilization of irrigation, McMillan said, including capital access and cash flow. “Much of our farmland is absentee-owned, and it sometimes is difficult to convince these owners of the value of such a long term investment.”

He noted that the Alabama Universities Irrigation Initiative, a collaborative effort that is part of a $280 million national program to finance on-farm reservoirs, is now under way, and that the Alabama legislature has created a Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management to develop a water management plan and recommend to the governor and legislature a course of action to address the state’s long term and short term water resource challenges.

“This will include a comprehensive database on water issues, and a comprehensive water plan, to be submitted by December 2013,” McMillan said.

Dennis Brag, who farms several thousand acres of cotton, corn, and soybeans in northwest Alabama near Huntsville, said areas east of the Mississippi River “are blessed with abundant water resources. Our issues aren’t so much about water shortages, as in the West, but rather a shortage of creativity in using the water resources we have. Finding ways to make the best use of resources — that’s how agriculture and a state can prosper.”

When considering an investment in irrigation, Bragg said, it’s important to know the laws involved: Who owns the water — the individual who owns the land, or the state?

“A few years ago, I paid a high-priced lawyer to break down the law into layman terms.”

Most laws are based on riparian rights, he noted, with ownership of water tied to ownership of the land, and the owner having a right to “reasonable use” of water flowing through his land.

“There are many variables in ‘reasonable,’ but state law lets the owner decide what constitutes reasonable use, and Alabama’s statutes allow entrepreneurs space to do what’s needed,” Bragg said.