Lewis Buford didn’t hesitate when asked what he’s going to do with the $6,000 he earned as the undergraduate winner of the Future of Southern Agriculture Student Essay Contest. “I’m going to use it to finish school.”

In his essay, the agricultural science major at Mississippi State University wrote how farmers need to strive for water use efficiency in crop production, even in areas where water is abundant.

In a phone interview, Buford noted, “Agriculture cannot exist without water. New technology and the new tractors are great and make things much more efficient and easier on the farmer. But if we don’t have water, none of it will matter. You can have all the high-tech equipment in the world, but if you’re in a spot that doesn’t get water, it won’t work.”

An advantage for the Southeast and Mid-South growing regions is that many production areas have access to adequate, although variable, supplies of water during the season. “We’re lucky to get the natural rainfall that makes it easier for us. Look at places like Australia, where there’s been a drought, and California, where any little bit of water they get, they’re sending to the cities.”

The problems in Australia and California underscore even more the need for water use efficiency in the Mid-South and Southeast, according to Buford. “We don’t need to waste water. We don’t need to pump for three days when we can put in a program that lets us pump for one day. I’d like to see more efficient use of all our natural resources, soil and water.”

Buford, who was raised on a farm in Greenwood, Miss., is currently interning with a major agricultural company and working on the business side of agriculture. “That’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, picking up seed delivering it to farmers.”

Eventually, Buford would like to return to farming, perhaps to his grandfather’s farm and eventually start an operation of his own. The latter will present some challenges.

“On my grandfather’s farm, it’s all about learning new technologies coming along. I keep up with that. As far as farming my own land, having the money to start a farm and keeping it going, that’s going to be difficult. I don’t have any problems with hard work. But a lot of people work hard and don’t make enough money to keep a farm going these days.”

Buford acknowledges that cotton is his favorite crop. “Cotton gave me everything I have. I’m a cotton broker’s son and I’m from cotton farmers on my mother’s side. Cotton’s been good to me. I’d like to see the price of it go back up a little bit.”

Buford is the son of Bubba Buford and Kathy Woodson. His father is an independent cotton broker with Buford Cotton Co. in Greenwood. His mother’s side of the family has a large farm north of Greenwood.

Lewis Buford is married to Meredith Buford and the couple has a daughter, Jane Kimmel Buford.

To read the winners’ essays go to www.FutureofSouthernAg.com, and click on the official winners link.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com