Better weather information for better spraying decisions?

New technology allows farmers to have their own on-farm weather stations


In my last column, I wrote about how new technology sometimes scares the snot out of me (specifically driverless cars).

But I’m not a complete Luddite, or neo-Luddite. I do have an iPhone, apps and all.

Some of the apps I use most frequently during the summer are weather-related. I like to check if a squall line is marching my way before I commit to any lengthy outdoor activities.

Dr. Randy Kutcher, a disease specialist with the University of Saskatchewan, thinks local weather data could also help farmers make better fungicide application decisions.

The first thing farmers need to remember is that weather is just one risk factor. For a disease to take hold there needs to be inoculum in the area, he explained. Rotation and variety are also factors, he added.

Some regions are already creating disease risk maps using weather data. For example, Manitoba creates a FHB risk map. The map is updated daily and takes into account the temperature and weather over the last seven days.

Saskatchewan doesn’t have anything similar right now, although they do survey fields for sclerotinia and blackleg ever year. The disease maps posted on its website will give you an idea of whether the disease is present in your area.

Weather stations

But the good news is that even if you don’t have disease risk maps for your area, you have other options. For one thing, weather stations aren’t prohibitively expensive anymore.

“When you spend half a million on a combine, a couple thousand bucks for a weather station is not that much,” said Kutcher. “And in fact, you can get stuff for a lot cheaper than that. You can get stuff at Canadian Tire even.”

The University of Saskatchewan uses a sophisticated, solar-powered weather station called a Davis, which Kutcher said costs a couple thousand bucks. They also use small weather probes called HOBOs, which come in at less than $500.

“You can move them around. Or you can move them higher or lower in the canopy, depending on what you’re measuring,” said Kutcher. The cigar-shaped probes measure temperature, relative humidity, leaf surface wetness, and other variables. They don’t measure rainfall, but farmers can either check a rain gauge every morning or buy a tipping bucket.

Of course, Kutcher’s not the only one who sees a fit. Farmers Edge is using weather stations to help its clients with different agronomic and management decisions, including fungicide application. They combine weather data with information on fertility, variety, seeding date, soil water holding capacity and texture, and satellite imagery to predict everything from crop stages to disease outbreaks, Farmers Edge founder Wade Barnes wrote via email.

Once you have a personal weather station, you can also connect it to networks. Both Wunderground and WeatherFarm allow individuals to do this, although you should probably check their requirements before ponying up for a station. Hooking into their systems feeds weather data into the network, which benefits others in the area. WeatherFarm also has an online tool that tells you whether it’s too windy to spray or not, so that’s something to consider.

Farmers Edge provides weather stations as part of a precision agronomy package it calls Precision Solutions. The company supplies the hardware and installs the station. The stations tie into an existing network, but they provide local forecasts, weather alerts to help with agronomic decisions, historical weather information, and the ability to monitor environmental conditions for specific issues, such as disease. The weather station uploads this information to the Internet every few minutes.

Barnes cautioned against making spraying decisions based on alerts from weather stations 50 miles away. I think he’s probably right in that regard. My parents have a WeatherFarm station perched on top of their shop. There’s also a Wunderground station a few miles from their farm. The temperature, humidity and wind speed sometimes vary between those stations. It’s handy to have both available.

I don’t know much about actually buying a weather station. Wunderground has a selection on their website, but keep in mind they’re a U.S. company. Weather Innovations Network, which is based in Ontario, also has equipment information on its website.

Barnes suggests making sure your weather station provides enough data to help you make good decisions. You should also make sure you have enough strategically placed on the farm to make a difference, he added.

Kutcher said he thinks we can make use of weather data much more rigorously than we have.

“But we need to know when to collect it, how to collect it, and how to factor it into all the other things it affects — diseases like sclerotinia in canola and fusarium in wheat — to be able to make better judgments as to when to spray for those diseases.”


Full disclosure

WeatherFarm is owned by Glacier Farm Media. Glacier also owns Grainews and Country Guide, along with several other farm papers. You can see which papers Glacier houses at farmmedia.com.

Weather Innovations Network is also linked to Glacier. The company partnered with Glacier a couple of years ago to buy WeatherFarm from the Canadian Wheat Board.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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