Water Data by Fax Can Save Farmers Thousands
By 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
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
Scientific contact: Terry Howell, USDA-ARS Water Management
Research, Bushland, Tex., phone (806) 356-5746,