The park will provide the tools scientists need "to discover the best ways we can understand and make sure there is an adequate supply of water and an adequate supply of jobs in the future," Barnes told those who attended the dedication of the park here May 11.
The 133 acres of land used for the park was donated to Mitchell County by C.M. Stripling, whom Barnes honored for his contribution to the future of Georgia agriculture. Mitchell County leases the land to the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to use for the park.
"We don't realize how blessed we are by God with so much water (in Georgia)," Barnes said. "Unless we make sure we are good stewards of water both for agriculture and industry, we have no future."
Barnes said the park shows Georgia's commitment to water conservation and will help the state in the current water negotiations with Florida and Alabama, who have sued the state over water.
"We have been able to point in those negotiations to this center and to the other research in (Georgia) conserving water," Barnes said. "We can develop methods for agriculture to fully irrigate in a more effective and efficient way -- therefore, quit suing us and get off our backs."
Answers to Crisis
Barnes added that agriculture and rural Georgia are in a critical state.
"Agriculture is under attack in the United States. It's under attack because of the globalization of trade," he said.
But he said rural Georgia can still grow.
"We have the recipe for a successful rural renaissance in Georgia . . . economic development, better educated and better trained workers and more effective and more efficient agriculture with a value-added element," he said. "This (research park) is a cornerstone in that effort."
The CAES has "never had the kind of (water research) facility we have here to let us do the things we feel like are so important," said CAES Dean and Director Gale Buchanan.
"The kinds of things we'll be doing at this site will have benefits certainly for this area, for farmers, and certainly for agriculture. But the beneficiary is all of the people in the state of Georgia," Buchanan said.
"Water, very often," he said, "decides profit or loss in agriculture, the success of our state and the economy."
Farmers can learn the best techniques for irrigating in Georgia from the research at the park, said Mitchell County farmer Murray Campbell.
"Agriculture is a very large user of water in the state," said Campbell, who chairs the park's advisory committee. "And we need to learn how to use it wisely and judiciously."
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)