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Weather watchdogs: Precise real-time weather for the farm

02/05/2014 @ 7:06am

Weather is the number one factor affecting crop yield, and its unpredictable patterns may differ greatly across any given field.

“Research performed by Iowa State University found that rainfall totals can vary by nearly 2 inches across a 40-acre field,” says Jacob Madden, Spectrum Technologies. “Being able to monitor the microclimates within a given field can help aid with proper forecasting for better crop marketing plans and business decisions,” he says.

Yet, most farmers gauge current conditions based on general information from their local news or weather stations situated at airports, which may be hours away from a farm field. Also, weather information collected by airport sensors may only be updated every hour.

“This provides an incomplete picture for farmers who must make time- and budget-sensitive decisions based on current conditions and the forecast,” says Amena Ali of Earth Networks. “Accessing real-time weather, reported from your own farm, is a vital part of making the best choices for improved operations and maximum yields. Having your own weather station provides precise, hyperlocal weather right from your farm or field whenever you need it.”

Ground truthing

For Towanda, Illinois, farmer Adam Reeves, his three WatchDog 2900ET weather stations have replaced the Weather Channel and rain gauges and have become an important part of monitoring weather and environmental inputs.

“I had rain gauges at each farm, but if it rained .01 inch, it may have evaporated by the time I got to them,” he says. “It’s not much, but it does add up.”

The weather stations log every drop, so he knows exactly what’s going on in his fields. “It’s not information 30 miles away at the airport,” he notes. “It’s right here on the farm. It’s amazing to see the variations from year to year across the farms where I have the weather stations.”

With a little over $3,000 invested, Reeves’ stations offer him the ability to measure key parameters such as soil moisture, light, air temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and evapotranspiration.

“I did a solar radiation study to learn how much light hits the ground,” he says. “I know for a fact that if sunlight hits the ground instead of being shaded, it uses more water or it evaporates more water. I’m already in narrow [20-inch] rows, but this study confirmed it’s where I need to be.”

The stations also allow Reeves to datalog and to track the ways weather affects yield over time. In turn, it has helped him make better, more informed decisions.

“One of my favorite features is the ability to datalog and to look at the soil-moisture profile,” he says.

Reeves has two moisture probes – one at 12 inches and one at 24 inches. During a recent drought, the top 12 inches were out of water, but data from the moisture probes revealed there was still moisture above 24 inches.

“I’d have thought it would have been a lot deeper than 24 inches, but there was a lot of moisture above that,” he says. “I suspected that, but I thought it was going to be deeper because my area had gone so long without any water. Yet, I still had some really good corn and soybeans in a drought year. I knew there was water down there.”

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