So much more than just a rain gauge

Farmers Edge weather info 
service connects the dots of 
precision farming data

If you thought GPS and auto steer was a step forward in farming, check out the precision farming package Farmers Edge is launching this spring in Western Canada based around its on-farm, “field-centric,” precision weather data system.

The weather station is just part of an overall integrated data collection package called Smart Solution. Weather information combined with crop production information (seeding and fertility rates for example) and satellite imagery of your growing crops produces a unique management tool.

With these on-farm weather stations, feeding information into computer models — predictive modelling programs — a farmer in theory can go fishing for a few days and receive an alert on his cell phone that says they need to have a look at the south-half of field No. 9 because it is at risk of a wheat midge outbreak.

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Or, you might receive an alert — weather and crop conditions are favourable, be prepared to be spraying for sclerotinia or treat for some other crop disease.

Or in a different scenario there was a major weather event (downpour) over another quarter section of crop, and the alert advises that field could use another 40 pounds of nitrogen to maintain yield.

In still yet another real life example, Farmers Edge had one customer with a large canola acreage hit by a spring frost. The precision weather data service told him some of those acres were hit by -4 C temperatures on consecutive nights. He knew those acres needed to be re-seeded. He called crop insurance, they said they would be out to look, but it might take a week. The farmer couldn’t wait, he re-seeded the affected acres. When the crop adjuster did arrive, the farmer showed him the weather data and the adjuster agreed, “I can’t argue with that,” so the re-seeding was covered by insurance.

More than just weather

The on-farm weather stations aren’t just collecting weather information, they can also provide more accurate weather forecasting services as well as contribute to recommended prescriptions for agronomic attention to the crop.

The weather stations tie into the bigger data collection system on the farm, says Wade Barnes, CEO of Farmers Edge. With the whole package, the precision weather data, becomes the key to having a better handle on how your crops are performing today and providing advice on whether some type of action is needed.

This on-farm Farmers Edge weather station is an important link in making use of all the data 
available in an era of precision farming technology. photo: Courtesy Farmers Edge

Farmers Edge rolled out its field-centric (field or farm based) weather service at a farm show in San Antonio, Texas earlier this winter. That launch was specifically tailored to supply service to farmers in the U.S. Corn Belt who start planting ahead of Canada. The company will be launching a pilot system tailored for cereals and canola in Western Canada this spring. The remaining pulse and oilseed crops will be added later.

“To my knowledge no one else on the planet has this type of ag data collection system in the field with this level of accuracy,” says Barnes. “Some producers have said “I don’t need all this data,” but anyone who has given it a try has quickly decided they don’t want to farm without it.”

The weather stations are just one part of the Smart Solution package, which Barnes says is being offered initially at a cost of $2 per acre. Farmers signing up for Smart Solutions receive an installed and operational weather station for each 2,500 acres they are farming. Each station collects expected information such as temperature, precipitation, humidity, and wind speed. The weather service also provides a weather forecasting service provided by the highly regarded technology giant IBM.

Along with weather, the Smart Solution package also includes data collection from all field equipment called CanPlug. CanPlug, which can connect with the on-board computer system in all field equipment — tractors, seeding systems, field sprayers, and combines — collects all the data from these operations. That includes seeding dates, seeding rates, fertilizer application rates, herbicide and fungicide application rates, by field and by soil zones in each field. Along with the crop input information, CanPlug is also monitoring the real-time movement and efficiency of each piece of field equipment — you can see how many hours they ran and how much fuel it consumed per acre, for example.

Along with all that agronomic information Smart Solutions also includes satellite imagery of your cropped acres during the growing season — infrared imagery as well as vegetative imagery called NDVI. This eye-in-the-sky can reveal a wide range of information of how your crop is performing in the field.

It all links together

So put it all together. Smart Solutions collects all the data on seeding operations, for example — what and when it was seeded, fertility, in-crop treatments all by field and by soil zone. You’ve got current weather information for your farm, as well as an accurate weather forecasting service, and you’ve got satellite imagery revealing often subtle changes in plant performance in a field. Smart Solutions feeds all that data into a predictive computer modelling program for that crop, be it wheat, or canola or peas or lentils and overall the computer model can assess how your crop is doing, identify any particular risks, and alert the farmer to any particular actions that need to be taken.

Farmers tie into all this information through a software program called FarmCommand, which is accessible from your desktop, laptop or mobile device. FarmCommand provides access to a wide range of information including real-time fleet management — you can see what piece of equipment is working, where it is working, how fast it working and more. It also provides access to the field-centric weather information, satellite imagery, and harvest information. FarmCommand can be tailored to provide a number of different alerts that come through to your computer or smart phone.

“In theory you can be a thousand miles away and receive an alert that some action might need to be taken on some part of your crop,” says Barnes. “The producer can attend to it, or he can alert his crop consultant or agronomist — they are alerted to the fact that based on all this information some part of your crop is at risk, or conditions have changed which need to be looked at on the ground.”

The weather stations are collecting information from roughly a 10 to 12 mile radius — information most relevant to your farm — rather than some other services that might be 100 miles or more away.

Farmers Edge Smart Solutions data collection and analysis service compliments the company’s original Smart VR Solution — its variable rate technology services. The Smart VR Solutions includes extensive soil sampling of your farm, developing zone maps according to soil types, and then developing variable rate prescriptions for different crop inputs based on the production capability of each zone. Smart VR Solution service costs $3 per acre.

“For about $5 per acre ($2 for Smart Solution and $3 for Smart VR) we feel we are offering the most comprehensive precision farming packages to Western Canadian farmers,” says Barnes. “This is the digital information age and by using the data that is available it allows farmers to make better precision farming decisions for their farm.”

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