Water Data by Fax Can Save Farmers ThousandsBy Don Comis
June 9, 1997
BUSHLAND, Tex., June 9--A new weather station network electronically links farmers, news media and others in the northern part of the Texas High Plains to the latest information on plant water needs--information that could save the owner of a 2,500-acre farm more than $10,000 a year in water costs, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist.
Terry Howell, an agricultural engineer with USDA's Agricultural Research Service at Bushland, Texas, said a computer automatically sends early-morning fax messages to subscribers in Texas' North Plains. The computer predicts soil water evaporation and plant water use for major irrigated crops, including turf grass. Users can also access data on an electronic bulletin board.
The computer bases its calculations in part on weather data it receives hourly from nine weather stations on private farms in different counties. It also receives reports from three stations located on state and federal research farms in the North Plains. The computer combines this weather data with other data collected by ARS scientists.
Howell said the Amarillo, Texas, Globe-News publishes daily turf grass water use information, based on the computer's predictions, to aid urban lawn irrigators. Soon the computer serving the North Plains will deliver data and information via the Internet and e- mail.
The North Plains network complements a similar network established for the Southern Texas High Plains farming area, a major cotton-producing region. The two networks together have broadened coverage to include corn, wheat, sugar beets, sorghum, cotton, soybean, and peanut farming areas as well as livestock operations in the Texas High Plains.
The 26-county North Plains region annually produces more than $700 million worth of crops and $1.8 billion in livestock and livestock products, including almost half of the state's corn and wheat, and almost all of the state's annual $27 million sugar beet crop. The North Plains network is operated by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Amarillo, Tex., while the three-station South Plains network is headquartered at Lubbock.
Corn and wheat farming associations along with local water districts and the Texas Agricultural Extension Service helped build the North Plains network. Besides providing land, phone lines, and other support, farmers pay for equipment and maintenance for many of the weather stations.
Howell said USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) and local water districts are active participants in the network and use the data to advise farmers and other clients on water conservation technologies. He said private crop consultants also use the data and information, tailored to their specific clientele needs.
The network team has plans to include information on insect pests and plant diseases in the future and is currently testing western corn rootworm computer models on the North Plains network, Howell said. If the models work in the Texas High Plains, farmers can count on fax alerts on the rootworm in 1999.
Scientific contact: Terry Howell, USDA-ARS Water Management Research, Bushland, Tex., phone (806) 356-5746, firstname.lastname@example.org.