The Heat Is Online

Four Year Drought Imperils Georgia Farms

Georgia to pay to keep farms dry

Drought spurs plan to curtail some irrigation

The Boston Globe, March 17, 2001

DAWSON, Ga. - Facing its fourth straight summer of drought, the state is holding a no-irrigation auction: It is offering to pay farmers not to water their fields.

The state has set aside $10 million from the national tobacco settlement to pay farmers in 42 counties to forgo irrigation in a region that includes cotton farms and the nation's most fertile peanut fields.

Farmers who accept the money can still try to grow crops, but their fields may wither if the summer is as dry as the last three years have been. If the summer is wet, the farmers can keep the money and still have a healthy crop.

''If we have good, moderate rains this summer on a timely basis, [the payments] will be a great thing for farmers,'' said Tommy Irvin, Georgia's agriculture commissioner. ''If it turns really hot and the crop perishes in the field, it could be a disaster for farmers.''

Many farmers signed up yesterday for the weekend auction.

Large areas of the country have been gripped by drought recently.

Yesterday, the government began making $1.1 billion in payments to 160,000 farmers who lost crops to drought and other weather-related disasters last year. Texas, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas were among the states with the greatest demand.

On Thursday, officials approved the tightest water restrictions ever in South Florida.