Cullman County abounds with vegetable and melon crops, with farmers growing more than 1,000 acres of them each year – mostly sweet potatoes and watermelons, historically grown without irrigation.
A Specialty Crop Block Grant, awarded in 2013 to Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), helped provide specialized planting equipment to county farmers. The equipment tightly covers a bed of soil with a sheet of plastic mulch and installs a flexible irrigation pipe.
The mulch keeps weeds from germinating around the plants, while the irrigation pipe delivers water and other nutrients.
“Fertilizer can be delivered in the water, directly to the plant root zone, instead of being broadcast as solid fertilizer all over the field,” says Travis Kress of the Cullman County SWCD. “This reduces the potential for fertilizer runoff, and the plastic mulch reduces the needed amount of herbicides.”
It makes sense to have the equipment available for rent, Kress says. Farms find it difficult to justify purchasing specialized equipment only used a day or two each year. Not only is the equipment helping with soil and water conservation efforts, Cullman County farmers like Clark Haynes are realizing higher yields.
“Clark reports up to four to five times the yields from non-irrigated, bare-ground watermelons,” Kress says.
Haynes & Sons Farms also uses the equipment to plant cucumbers and squash. Some of the vegetables even end up in meals at Alabama schools.
The Specialty Crop Block Grant program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. The program provided more than $400,000 for 19 projects in 2015.