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Photo: Agricultural engineers Terry Howell (left) and Thomas Marek maintain a weather station at the ARS Bushland experimental North Plains Evapotranspiration Network. Link to photo information

Read: a more detailed story about the work in Agricultural Research.

“Water-Smart” Network Faxes Nightly Advice

By Don Comis
December 12, 2000

With natural gas prices at an all-time high, Texas High Plains farmers are finding it even costlier to operate irrigation pumps powered by natural gas.

This--combined with a continuing drought--is making information dispersed by the Texas High Plains Evapotranspiration Network ever more critical to Texas irrigators’ survival. The High Plains Network was formed from the recent merger of two networks, one for the North Plains and one for the South Plains areas of the Texas Panhandle.

Evapotranspiration is a technical term for all water either lost through evaporation or used (transpired) by plants.

The new network is operated by ARS, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Texas Agricultural Experiment Stations, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University. Terry A. Howell, an agricultural engineer at the ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas, helped collect the 10 years of crop water use data the network relies on.

In the North Plains, the network maintains a 1,500-mile circuit of weather stations that relate this data to current weather conditions. The result is a nightly fax alert that currently goes out to about 350 subscribing farmers. This past summer, the alerts began including corn rootworm warnings. Next, network organizers plan to add plant disease alerts for peanut farmers.

From May to November each year, the Amarillo Globe-News publishes an urban lawn-watering guide based on data faxed overnight by the network.

The network has been credited with helping to extend the predicted useful life of the Ogallala Aquifer by a third. The Ogallala is the largest underground water supply in North America. A more detailed story about the work appears in the December issue of Agricultural Research, ARS’s monthly publication.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Terry A. Howell, ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory, Bushland, Texas, phone (806) 356-5746, fax (806) 356-5750,