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Irrigation 'Booming' On Delaware Farms

State's DRIP loan program helped 15 farmers install 850 acres of irrigation since last July. Applications are still being received.

Lee Collins knows just how quickly a soaking rain can vanish into his sands during summer, especially after last summer. He and wife Hanna grow corn, soybeans, barley and watermelon on 140 acres near Laurel, Del.

"The one thing we can't control is the weather," he says. "That's the most limiting factor we have." That's why the couple opted to put in a well and irrigation control system to irrigate 37 acres this spring.

It was made possible by a revolving loan program. The Delaware Rural Irrigation Program was created last July with $1 million from the Delaware Strategic Fund.

"Without the program, I don't think we could have irrigated that this year," adds Collins, who praised the simplicity of the approval process. "There was no red tape, and it was very stress-free. I was surprised how easy it was."

Since last July, DRIP made $223,570 in no-interest loans, averaging $14,598 per farm. Thanks to the revolving loan fund jointly established by the Delaware Department of Agriculture and the state's Economic Development Office, 15 farms are irrigating another 850 acres of First State farmland.

DRIP details
To be eligible, you must have been actively engaged for at least two years in growing and harvesting of cash crops, such as corn, soybeans, fruit and vegetables in Delaware. And, you must own or lease the land to be irrigated.

The program will grow, as applications are continually being accepted. "With just 24% of Delaware cropland under irrigation, this initiative is helping reach crops that may not otherwise have thrived," says Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee. "Irrigation provides an edge against the unpredictability of a dry season and improves crop yields."

And it has significant environmental benefits, making crops more efficient in the uptake of nutrients so they don't stay in the soil during dry weather, then add to nutrient loading during the wet fall and winter months. "This is truly a triple-win program – for the agricultural economy, for consumers and for the environment," he adds.

DRIP is administered jointly through the Ag Department and the Economic Development Office. DEDO staff members review and approve the loan applications, while DDA staff determines the agricultural eligibility of the applicants.

The program works in partnership with private lending institutions by providing the borrower with no-cost capital equal to the normal and customary equity requirements of a private loan.

The loan fund finances up to 25% of the total project cost, not exceeding $25,000, at 0% interest for no more than seven years. Repayment of principal must begin in year three of the loan.

A bank or other lending institution must loan the remaining balance of the project. Financing is limited to one project per farm each year.

DRIP loans can help add new irrigation systems, including center pivot, linear move, towable systems, span-angle systems, corner-arm systems, single-phase electric systems or wells and filters associated with drip irrigation systems. All work must be performed by experienced and qualified contractors licensed in and located in Delaware.

For more details, contact the Delaware Economic Development Office at 302-672-6847 or [email protected]. Applications should be submitted concurrently with approved bank financing.

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