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The Benefits of Using Field-Level Weather Data

Having precise weather data offers huge planning advances.

With fields, feedlots, and rangeland scattered over a 60-mile area centered around Albion, Nebraska, the effects of weather on the Niewohner Brothers operation can vary widely. “Particularly during the spring and fall, knowing if an area received rain or not has a big impact on scheduling fieldwork,” points out Matt Niewohner. “For example, today we’ll be cutting silage in one area, drilling rye in another location, and starting corn harvest in a different field. So just knowing the rainfall amounts definitely helps us coordinate fieldwork.”

Having access to field-level current weather information is also especially crucial to this operation since many of its acres are irrigated, and the land they farm can vary greatly from sand to clay soils. So scheduling irrigation according to soil-moisture levels has a direct impact on yields.

Certainly weather reports from the National Weather Service can help you monitor field conditions or plan field operations. Yet, that data is general in nature, especially when it comes to rainfall amounts in individual fields.

Last year, Niewohner Brothers signed up with the Climate Corporation’s ( FieldView digital weather service, which provides historic, real-time, and forecasted weather information by individual fields.

Prior to the turn of the last decade, if you needed detailed weather information, you took to installing weather stations or, at the very least, put a rain gauge in each field. Climate Corporation’s proprietary FieldView models employ a mixture of weather radar and ground sensors along with historic information to generate field-level real-time weather information.

Besides providing daily weather data on a field-by-field basis, these models examine the weather that’s transpired at the county level and run a series of simulations based on 30 years of historical weather to forecast what could occur for the remainder of the season.

Planning Tool

Farmer subscribers are discovering that such data, besides providing information that can be used to adjust crop care, has the added benefit of planning field activities.

“Time management right now is the biggest advantage to getting this weather information,” Niewohner points out. “In the morning, I can use FieldView to determine the condition of fields, which gives me a ballpark of where we can run – or not.”

The FieldView service was impressive enough to inspire Niewohner Brothers to invest in Climate Corporation’s nitrogen monitoring information as well as its high-resolution satellite imagery. 

"Those satellite images work to confirm – as well as to pinpoint – the issue,” says Matt Niewohner.

“Particularly with those satellite images, I find myself sitting on the edge of fields looking at the images on my phone as an additional way of scouting fields,” Niewohner says. “This is the first year with the satellite images. I’m guessing I’ll spend a lot of time staring at those pictures this winter when making cropping plans.”

Although he is at the beginning stages of utilizing such digital information, Niewohner predicts that this data will have a huge impact on cropping decisions. 

“I generally know where I’m having problems in a field. Those satellite images work to confirm – as well as to pinpoint – the issue,” he says. “When I take into consideration the weather that affected that area in the past year, I can better identify where I have a problem such as with irrigation or drainage.”

The other weather-related tool Niewohner has started to employ, Nitrogen Advisor, estimates the total amount of nitrogen uptake by the crop throughout the growing season as well as estimating volatilization, denitrification, leaching, and runoff. 

The program’s data allows him to monitor specific nitrogen programs and update and run scenarios to determine the right rate and the right time of application based on the projected nitrogen available at black layer.

Weather Stations Still Have a Place

Programs such as Climate’s FieldView, while providing hourly weather info, doesn’t completely replace weather stations when highly accurate information is desired. 
Due to improvements in wireless technology and solid-state construction, today’s stations can provide real-time and pinpoint climate information from remote locations.

The high end of such stations is Davis Instruments’ ( GroWeather Wireless, which collects temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and solar irradiance. Powered by a solar panel and wireless station, GroWeather retails for $820.

Davis Instruments has a wide variety of other stations with varying prices. 

Following are other firms offering weather stations for agricultural use. Units range in price from $50 to $250.

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