Watch the Weather

December 9, 2011 08:40 PM
Watch the Weather

Tools to pinpoint weather conditions on your farm

On-farm weather assessment tools make it easier than ever to know if the 80 acres of corn five miles from your house received an inch of rain or simply a sprinkle last night.

With the help of weather stations and data loggers, farmers can use real-time weather information to determine when to plant, irrigate, apply crop-protection products and even harvest a specific field.

The Farm Journal Test Plots crew has installed and used different systems throughout the years to track temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind direction and speed, and soil moisture.

"Our main weather station helps us monitor growing degree days and insect heat units," explains Isaac Ferrie, who works in the Farm Journal Test Plots in Illinois. "By tracking heat units, we know what insects to scout for and what stages of growth the pests are in."

Because there can be a big difference between microclimates on the farm and general weather
information, it’s critical to know as many of the specifics in a field as possible, says Paul Gannett, product marketing manager for Onset Computer Corporation.

"You can get web-based access to your data, so you don’t have to go around and check conditions in every field," he adds, noting that many Onset customers use a mix of Wi-Fi and cellular-based systems.

Plug and play. Battery powered data loggers are easy to use, and they can be used as stand-alone devices without a computer, Gannett says. Soil moisture sensors can be paired with the system to tell you whether to turn on an irrigation system or turn it off.

"Farmers can see soil moisture conditions, soil moisture trends, how fast the soil is drying out and if and when they need to run their irrigation system." 

However, not all data loggers are created equal, Gannett cautions.

Before you make a purchase, he says, determine whether you need to measure a range of conditions or a single parameter. "It takes a little trial and error for people to know how many units they need to employ to get a good profile of their fields," he explains.

Onset’s line of Hobo data loggers and weather stations offers a range of data solutions. Stand-alone data loggers start at $42. A 15-channel, web-based weather station costs roughly $2,500. A basic cellular annual service plan is $240; Wi-Fi service plans are free. A four-channel Hobo micro weather station starts at $220.

Precipitation tally tool. The Precip web-based product from IntelliCrop tallies the amount of precipitation in a given area, much like a rain gauge, enabling farmers to evaluate crop moisture levels, according to Nate Taylor, part owner of the company, which is based in Sycamore, Ill.

"The rain maps show seasonal accumulations from seven days to 30 days, so you can dig into what impact that water has had on your growing season, and you don’t have to extrapolate the information," Taylor says.

Taylor says IntelliCrop customers use the information Precip provides as they develop their marketing plan and make grain storage decisions.

The cost of the Precip service starts at $18 per month, based on a 150-square-mile area. Farmers pay 5¢ for every additional square mile added to the mapped area.

Customized weather tools, such as data loggers and weather stations with wireless and cellular communications options, are also available from Spectrum Technologies Inc. Data loggers start at $40 and weather stations start at $500. Both systems require software.

If you aren’t able or willing to pay for such services, the next-best option is probably using a university weather monitoring network that offers information on a regional basis. For example, Michigan State University has a weather monitoring network called Enviro-weather that farmers can access free-of-charge at

The station checks wind speed and direction, air temperature, humidity, soil moisture and temperature at various locations across the state.

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