George County nurseries rely on irrigation during drought

GEORGE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Farmers in George County are keeping a nervous watch on the sky. Like much of the parched Southeast, they are longing for rainfall to wash away this stubborn drought.

George County is home to some of the largest nurseries in the South, operations that ship plants across America.

Most of the larger operations like Rocky Creek Nursery have underground irrigation systems.  But while those sprinklers can keep the plants watered, the ongoing drought still poses problems.

Rotating sprinkler heads sound a steady beat throughout Rocky Creek Nursery.

When it rains, the irrigation system runs less frequently. With South Mississippi in the grip of a drought, it's been running near non-stop.

"The last sizable amount of rain we've gotten here was April 15th. We got almost an inch that day. And since then we've gotten only a quarter of an inch more. So, its a long time since we've had any sizable amount of rain here," said Rudolph Hall, who's worked at Rocky Creek for 20 years.

Most large nursery operations rely on irrigation systems.  There are seven pumps at Rocky Creek.  The rotating schedule gives each section of plants one hour of watering a day.

"Most of our water comes straight out of the ground. But to get it up to the plants it has to use electricity to power the pumps, so our electricity bill will take a hit from all the water we've had to put out," said Hall.

Despite the drought, a large operation like this can still make money shipping plants elsewhere.

Containers of junipers are headed north to Memphis.

"People are still ordering plants cause in certain areas of the southeast they're still getting rain. So, they're able to take plants. But most people around here probably are not wanting plants because of the lack of water around here," said Hall.

Even though Rocky Creek Nursery can rely upon its irrigation system to compensate for the lack of rainfall, it can't control the drought.

Like a hard freeze during the winter and heat waves during the summer, Mother Nature is one of the risks of doing business in the nursery industry. Plants need water. And they could care less where it comes from.

"They don't know any difference. They're just getting it from a different source," said Hall.

Rocky Creek Nursery is a wholesale operation. Hall said despite the higher electric bill for keeping those pumps running, it has not yet reached the point of having to raise plant prices to compensate.

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