BATON ROUGE -- The Louisiana Farm Bureau's board of directors has voted to support a state groundwater policy amendment and called on its membership to vote yes on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Constitutional Amendment 10, known as the Groundwater Conservation amendment, would authorize the Louisiana Legislature to create programs to provide loans, grants and other subsidies to assist farmers who voluntarily forgo irrigating with groundwater in periods of drought. It also would assist those in agriculture in developing surface water resources for irrigation. The organization's board of directors held its regular meeting in Baton Rouge, Oct. 17-18.

"This amendment is vital to the future survival of Louisiana agriculture and rural communities which depend on groundwater," said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. "We've seen in other areas of the country that farmers and rural communities often take a backseat to the water needs of large urban areas. Louisiana has worked hard to avoid such a situation and this policy will ensure that all Louisianians have access to water."

The amendment, pushed for by Sen. Max Malone, R-Shreveport, in the 2001 Regular Session, also would create a drought protection trust fund to receive donations and federal and state monies for conserving water resources. Payments to farmers would be limited to those who in the past have used at least 1 million gallons of aquifer water per irrigation day over the last five years. The funds also could be used for surface water development projects not entirely paid for by federal grants.

Louisiana has four main groundwater aquifers that supply about 16 percent of the water used for farming, industry and personal use, according to the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. Nearly half of all groundwater used statewide in Louisiana in 2000 went to irrigation purposes.

With the state's farming community relying heavily on aquifers in years of severe drought, Anderson said voter approval of Amendment 10 is essential if agriculture was to remain the No. 1 contributor to the Louisiana economy.

"Agriculture pumps in nearly $9 billion a year to the state's economy," he said. "With farm prices being so depressed over the last three years, the last thing farmers want to think about is not having enough water to grow their crops."

Farm Bureau has a seat on the state's Groundwater Commission Task Force, created to develop meaningful water policy for the state. The organization has been active in its support of a program that would allow all users to have the benefits of a state usually considered to have an abundance of water.

"We've seen in the past that getting out front on an issue like this pays dividends later," Anderson said. "The time to call for support of such a plan is not when the tap is running dry, but rather when the water is still flowing."

A vote for the amendment would create the drought protection trust fund and allow payments to farmers for not using groundwater in drought conditions. A vote against the measure would continue to prohibit the loan, pledge or donation of funds for such a program.