Farm Forum - WeatherBug® Your Weather Just Got Better

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Technology | Fall 2008
Personalize your weather report
By Jennifer Barber
Wireless on-farm weather stations provide extensive data for more precise decision making
With a new baler in his shed, Doyle Wiebe was looking for the
right time to bring it into the field. Knowing that humidity was a
crucial part of that decision, Wiebe had to look no further than his
desk to know when to get to work. His on-farm weather station
told him that despite deceptively cool weather, the humidity was
low enough to go.
A self described weather enthusiast, like many farmers Wiebe
needs to know what he can expect from Mother Nature when he
heads into the field. “With the baler, I want to make sure I have
ideal moisture levels, and I am open to looking to a scientific
source for that information,” he says. “Now I know my (hay)
quality is high, and that I used my aeration fans efficiently.”
His weather station is part of a prairie-wide network spearheaded by the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) that partnered with
WeatherBug — owner and operator the world’s largest network of weather stations and cameras — and Pioneer Grain to launch the
project in the summer of 2007. Since then, Bayer CropScience, Alberta’s Parkland Agri-Services and more than 40 other agricultural
retailers, schools, and government agencies have signed on to help develop the network and provide increasingly specific
information to farmers.
“These weather stations can identify micro-problems in small areas,” says Guy Ash, weather and crops analyst with the CWB. “They
provide real-time observations that make the information truly a local result. We’re developing spray advisories and models on
wheat midge, and continually producing tools to make it more useful.”
The solar powered stations are mounted on poles and record wind speed and direction, humidity, precipitation, temperature,
barometric pressure and dew point readings. These readings are wirelessly transmitted every 2.5 seconds to a home console and
networked via high speed Internet. Basic information can also be viewed using a wireless device or cell phone.
The project’s original goal was to secure agreements with farmers, retailers and other partners for the installation of 600 weather
stations across the prairies over the first three years of the program. But due to high demand over 900 were sold in the first year.
Stations have been installed on farms, grain terminals and agricultural retailers, and there is currently a waiting list for new stations.
ON-FARM RESULTS BRING PRECISION
The weather stations were designed to generate information specifically for farm use. For example, they assess wind conditions for
guidance in managing spray drift. They also indicate temperature, humidity and rainfall conditions to help predict harvest quality.
This past summer, the grid had enough stations for the CWB and Bayer CropScience to create wide-area forecast models for
certain disease and insect risks.
Wiebe, who farms just south of Langham, SK says his 5,000 acres cover a large enough area that they have their own weather
pattern. “Before I got this system I’d phone Environment Canada every hour to find out the humidity, to know how long I could
combine. I don’t have to do that anymore.”
While on a course in the spring of 2007, Wiebe learned about the weather stations and their installation from the CWB. The wireless
transmission requires high speed Internet that he already had on his farm. His system was put in place right before spraying season
and he was able to see the advantage of farm-specific weather data right away.
“Before heading out on the sprayer I’d always check my remote station so I could monitor the wind conditions on a minute-by-minute
basis,” says Wiebe. “The data really helped me decide when I should go out in the field or if I should go out at all that day.” Wiebe’s
station is mounted on top of his machine shed, so there is a bit of variability relative to ground wind speed, but it was still very
accurate.
The weather stations augment existing services provided by Environment Canada. “Environment Canada provides forecasts,
weather warnings and long-term climate information,” says Ash. “While its services are invaluable, its mandate is not to provide
weather information for specific locations. These weather stations graph numerous weather variables in a short time span so a
farmer can review the way the weather’s been throughout the day, and can build on that information.”
FINE-TUNE SPRAY TIMING
Pinpointing weather has financial implications for farmers. One of the goals of the program is to use information collected from the
weather stations for more efficient use of equipment and crop inputs.
“Farmers were frustrated by the lack of good, local weather information available to them,” says Jim Anderson, director of business
development with WeatherBug. “With the increase in integrated pest management and precision agriculture, the only way to truly
know if decision-making is accurate based on conditions, is with localized weather.”
With WeatherBug’s technological background and meteorological expertise combined with agronomics provided by the CWB,
models for diseases such as sclerotina and fusarium or insects such as wheat midge, were developed in the first year of the
program.
“One way the network of information is used is to predict when outbreaks of disease or insects my occur,” says Anderson.
Emergence of pests like wheat midge depends on the number of heat units in an area, he explains. Agronomists take information
from the network and use it to create scientific models to predict emergence patterns.
The basic weather data is available through the WeatherBug site to anyone with an Internet connection. More in-depth information
can be accessed through the CWB’s e-services for an annual fee of $99 for farmers who own a station and $199 for those without.
The cost of the on-farm weather station is about $900.
Weather Bug and Bayer CropScience have also developed a subscriber-based BayerWeather Command Centre (see sidebar)
which uses data from network stations to develop disease and pest risk models. The Command Centre ties this information back to
commodity prices to create a more complete picture of the cost of weather-affected decisions.
JOIN THE GRID
Not all the weather stations are located on farms. In the interest of creating a properly spaced grid, some are being installed at farm
supply outlets or other rural locations. Ideally, the stations would be spaced every 20 kilometers across the prairies.
Cam Goff mounted his station outside his service station and coffee bar near Hanley, SK. It also gives him information he needs for
his farm 13 miles away. He says the station has been a conversation piece at the coffee bar.
“Everyone wants to go out and take a look at it,” says Goff. Seeing how it works gives farmers first-hand knowledge of what they
could get from a station of their own, adds Goff. “I had no idea it would be this popular but the reaction of farmers I’ve spoken with
has been very enthusiastic.”
He also installed his unit just before spray season and used the results to fine-tune applications. One of the things he also found
useful has been the ability to go back and look at conditions the day before. “I can make decisions the following day, or for the
following year, based on how much rain I received, how low the temperature was, and what the end result was,” says Goff.
“Factoring day-to-day weather into my decision making puts a new spin on the phrase, ‘precision agriculture.’”
Goff believes that if more farmers sign onto the grid, all farmers will benefit. “My hope is that one day, the grid will work in a way that
farmers can see on-the-ground conditions as they drive through their fields,” says Goff. “Farming is becoming more high tech, and
precision will make the use of our time, resources and inputs more efficient.” FF
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