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From when to plant, water, and spray crops to when to harvest, you make agronomic decisions based on the weather every day. Current, accurate weather data helps that decision-making process.
“Weather stations are an important part of monitoring weather and environmental inputs, offering the ability to measure key parameters such as soil moisture, light, air temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and evapotranspiration,” says Jacob Madden, Spectrum Technologies. “The ability to data-log and to track how weather affects yield over time can help you make better, more informed decisions.”
By investing in a weather station, you are not only able to easily access current weather conditions on your farm, but also better equipped to manage a wide range of situations.
"As a result, you are able to greatly reduce many of the risks associated with farming, which leads to significant financial benefits,” says John Williamson, Davis Instruments. “For example, a timely frost alert or pest-risk index can allow you to implement measures that will protect you from significant crop losses.”
Yet, you may gain weather information from weather stations situated at airports, your local news, or the Web. “There are many weather sources available on the Internet,” says WeatherHawk’s Stephen Struebig. “However, they can be very different, and it is doubtful any of them are taking measurements from your actual location.”
To illustrate his point, Struebig did a quick check of the temperature readings from seven online sources for Logan, Utah. What he discovered was a 9˚F. discrepancy among the weather sources.
“Local news is also a source for weather information, but news tends to focus on forecasting rather than ground-based data of past events. Also, these news sources tend to cover larger areas, which is not extremely helpful to an individual location,” he explains.
There are numerous factors that go into determining which station is right for you. Struebig says these are just some of the questions to ask yourself.
- How many variables does the station have?
- How are the variables measured?
- How does the station communicate the data?
- Does the station log data?
- Can the data set be customized?
- Are the data time intervals customizable?
- What are the setup procedures for the station?
- What is the life expectancy of the station?
- What is the accuracy of the station?
- Are there scheduled maintenance procedures?
- Can the station be repaired?
- Does the cost of the station fit your budget?
“Typically, there are trade-offs regarding cost vs. the functionality of the station. Many stations offer the ability to send data to a base computer or to the Web from remote areas via various communications options,” explains Madden. “Farmers who have easy access to the station and who make frequent visits to their field might benefit from a more economical system that simply logs the data and shows the information on an LCD.”
He also adds that it’s important for you to be able to customize a station to your particular needs. “Certain stations have numerous sensor-input ports that allow you to choose sensors that measure the specific parameters you care about,” notes Madden. “The number of sensor inputs available should also be taken into consideration, especially when looking ahead to the potential for adding more sensors in the future. In all situations, you should look for an affordable, research-quality station that is field-validated and provides reliable data to be able to make decisions.”
Williamson adds, “In general, we know you face hundreds of weather-related problems, so we always try to focus in on the problems that present the highest risk to your specific business.”
For example, Williamson will ask a corn grower about the importance of soil temperature to germination, the need to track rainfall and evapotranspiration to calculate irrigation schedules, and the use of growing degree days in accurately predicting harvest dates.
“With so many key benefits available to you, it also is important that you can easily share critical weather data with field staff, consultants, and customers,” adds Williamson.
Struebig says he tends to put emphasis on location and the many things that can affect the readings from weather stations based on where they are mounted.
“Not knowing exactly where weather data is coming from can impact weather-based decisions,” Struebig explains. “Making decisions based on incorrect data can be worse than making decisions without any data.”
Breaking it down
Weather stations can have a wide price range based on quality, functionality, and grade. “When it comes to cost, the simple answer is approximately $20 to $50,000,” says Struebig.
He says he tends to categorize weather stations into three types: consumer grade, industrial grade, and research grade.
“Within this generalization, consumer-grade stations can cost about $20 to $1,000; industrial-grade can cost approximately $1,000 to $5,000; and research-grade can cost about $5,000 to $50,000,” he says.
“It is likely that you won’t need a research-grade station, but an industrial-grade station could be a possibility in some situations. Industrial weather stations tend to have more flexibility in communication, data rates, and measurements than consumer-grade stations,” says Struebig.
“Your ultimate goal is to maximize yield and to minimize inputs. Timely measurements obtained from weather stations help rationalize the decision-making process with hard data,” concludes Madden.