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Handheld wind meters

Gil Gullickson 02/04/2013 @ 10:35am Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Ever lick your finger and hold it up in the air to gauge wind direction and speed? Tossing blades of grass works, and so does noticing which direction trees blow.

These no-cost wind-detection methods might work well during golf season, but it's a different story during spraying season. There is a good reason why a herbicide like glyphosate is labeled to apply between 2-mph and 10-mph wind speeds. Wind speeds above 10 mph can key off-target movement. If that herbicide you're applying drifts into a nearby vineyard, you could be liable for damages for $5,000 per acre or more.

Pesticides can also move off target when wind is absent, due to inversion drift. “I'm not discounting the severity of a chemical-drift issue due to excess winds,” says Andrew Thostenson, North Dakota State University pesticide program specialist. “But usually in that case, the wind is creating dispersal and evaporation, and you might take out the edges of a neighbor's field. An inversion drift can take out an entire 160-acre field because of the way it moves in a cloud, and there is no dispersal and no evaporation. That's why it can be much worse.”

Immediacy and accuracy

That's where handheld wind meters come into play. These devices enable pesticide applicators to immediately gauge wind speed, wind direction, and other weather data. This information can be used to decide whether to park the sprayer or to commence spraying.

“I have used these and they work well,” says Scott Bretthauer, University of Illinois Extension specialist, pesticide safety education.

Handheld wind meters feature a range of attributes. Some less-expensive units detect just wind speed and temperature. Other more expensive ones mimic mini weather stations. They measure not only wind data, but also dew point, humidity, and other indicators.

Having more data can help you make better spraying decisions. However, avoid getting bogged down by so much data that you get analysis paralysis.

“If you get something complicated, you won't use it,” reminds John Johnston, division manager of WeatherHawk Division for Campbell Scientific.

Here are five features to consider when shopping for a handheld wind meter.

1. Jackknife design. Like a jackknife, the upper part containing the wind-measuring component swings out as you hold the bottom part.

“The jackknife keeps the unit away from your hand,”says Ed Edelman, owner of ambientweather.com.

That's important, because heat generated by a hand can give erroneous readings. The jackknife design also covers the unit's impeller, which is used in calculating wind speed. This helps prevent damage from hard knocks and dust.

Bretthauer advises that you measure where the spray originates. “You need to measure wind speed at boom height, not at cab height,” he says.

2. Durability. Meters in the field will be exposed to wind, rain, dirt, and the occasional drop onto the ground. It's important to have a unit that stands up to tough conditions.

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