FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The Irrigation Association’s leadership met in July to discuss critical industry issues, brainstorm opportunities for the organization and set strategic priorities for the next three years. Much of the meeting focused on the urgent need to address perceptions that irrigation wastes water, particularly in the face of widespread drought.

As part of a one-day strategic planning session, IA board members, committee and common interest group leaders, and key staff members discussed the association’s future. Over 40 industry professionals reviewed key findings from a recent member survey, then broke into small groups to discuss how to ensure IA continues to meet the needs of its members and the irrigation industry.

After prioritizing issues facing different industry segments and brainstorming opportunities to address these challenges, IA’s leadership agreed that the association must strengthen its focus on public outreach, standards and education to achieve its mission of promoting efficient irrigation.

Change the Public Perception of Irrigation

Participants agreed that key decision makers and the general public appear to view both landscape and agricultural irrigation as wasting water, with irrigating turf and urban landscapes during drought conditions a particular source of complaint. While changing public opinion is a major and long-term undertaking, IA’s leadership felt strongly that working to address this negative perception must be a strategic focus for the association.

Specific tactics to change the public’s perception of irrigation should include:
* Quantitative measurement of public and policymaker opinions about irrigation.
* A public affairs campaign to address these perceptions.
* Expanded outreach to water purveyors to partner on educational programming.

Develop Standards & Regulations That Legitimize the Industry 

Changing negative public opinion about irrigation requires increasing the industry’s credibility through consistent and widespread application of best practices, standards and codes. Although IA actively collaborates with many different organizations to develop voluntary standards and regulatory codes, this process can take years from initiation to implementation.

The planning group agreed that there is a growing sense of urgency to enact and adopt standards that will increase the industry’s legitimacy with the public and policymakers. To do so, IA’s leadership agreed that the association must aggressively pursue a long-term plan to develop regulations and licensing, with emphasis on states that lack these requirements. Currently 42 states do not require either a landscape irrigation or sub-category license to practice irrigation contracting.

Educate Frontline Irrigation Professionals

As the face of the industry, frontline irrigation professionals have the power and presence to positively influence water-efficient practices and make a significant difference in the public perception of irrigation. To help prepare contractors, on-farm agriculture irrigation managers and other frontline professionals to take on this critical role, IA must implement a more robust education program.

Despite the strength of IA’s current education and certification programs, the strategic planning group agreed that the association must create more opportunities for and pathways to education. Specifically, the planning group agreed that IA should work to increase the availability of online education and on-site training modules.

IA’s Board of Directors will next meet in conjunction with the 2013 Irrigation Show and Education Conference in November. Their agenda will include determining how to effectively allocate appropriate resources to these strategic priorities.

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