The ongoing drought has obviously taken a toll on panhandle agriculture, but new technology could help future crops thrive while conserving water.

For anything to grow, water is necessary. That much is simple, but how to conserve it is not.

"We started working with the International Atomic Energy Agency actually, which has a soil and water division dedicated to the peaceful use of nuclear energy," said USDA Research Soil Scientist Steven Evett.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation and Production Research Lab in Bushland has a radioactive device that measures water in soil with extreme accuracy.

For the past thirteen years, area scientists and researchers have been working to find a nonnuclear way to do the job, and today they showed their results to area farmers.

"We're making good progress and we're very hopeful that it'll be out in the fall," Evett said. "We think that as it begins to be installed here in the southern great plains, we will see farmers adopt it because it's going to be accurate, and it'll be the same cost as the alternatives that we have out there right now."

The new technology will allow farmers to use just the right amount of water on crops; using less water, but with higher efficiency.

Many area farmers already use technology meant to do the same thing, but the frequency domain sensors are inaccurate, and time consuming for farmers to collect the data.

The new time domain water sensors will collect more accurate information, and in a more timely way for farmers.

It's technology like this that the USDA's Ogallala Aquifer Program says will ensure a bright future for agriculture.

"We want to sustain the productivity that we're getting from the Ogallala Aquifer as far into the future as possible," said Ogallala Aquifer Program Manager David Brauer. "Because that generates farm income, that farm income generates community wealth, and it's able to sustain our populations and our livelihoods here."

The Ogallalla Aquifer program is funded by the USDA, and Brauer said it will likely be affected by sequestration cuts, though he couldn't predict how.