Upgrade For Weather Station Network’s Capabilities

The CWB-WeatherBug network across Western Canada already numbers some 650 sites with the incoming data used to predict wheat midge, fusarium and sclerotinia risk.

But soon there might be even more information wrung from the raw numbers collected by the network of solar-powered, “micro-weather stations” and put into the hands of farmers, says Guy Ash, project manager for the system.

“We are also working on testing and developing models for growth development of crops as well,” said Ash.

“So, there’s a few things going on that are operational and a few things that are more in the testing and development stage.”

PACKAGE

Once complete, all of it will be packaged and made available to farmers via a web-based portal offering farmers the ability to customize the information they want, he added.

Farmers, researchers, government officials and industry representatives will gather at a conference in Saskatoon next December to discuss the weather-monitoring program and the applications that will come from it.

“There’s a whole whack of developments going on. It will be quite an exciting portal,” he said.

The CWB has been offering all-inclusive weather-monitoring stations for $1,750, a turnkey package that includes equipment, installation and maintenance for five years.

The station itself is powered by a small, built-in solar panel, and is connected via a wireless data link with a range of 1,000

feet to a console inside a building. The owner provides only a high-speed Internet connection that links the station up to the broader network.

PRECISION

The network’s 650 stations are set up in farmyards, on top of equipment dealerships and at government research sites. It already covers much of Western Canada, but a farmer who invests in his own weather station benefits from a greater degree of precision because data generated at their specific site is incorporated into the overall model, said Ash.

“You become a point on the map that is being produced, say for example wheat midge emergence. In the future, that will change because they’ll be able to run a model for an individual point in a graph form. Those are the things that are being thought of in terms of functionality down the line.”

Models for grain development typically use more simplistic parameters, he said.

For example, a growing degree model consists of a simple curve on a graph that estimates accumulated temperature over time.

A crop disease probability model might incorporate a more diverse data spread, such as planting date, humidity, leaf wetness, temperature, variety sensitivity and stage of development.

INFORMATION GAPS

The CWB’s weather project began in 2005 to fill in the gaps in Environment Canada’s data-gathering capacity that occurred as a result of equipment “rust out,” according to Mike Grenier, an agronomist with the CWB.

Equipment was starting to fail and the government meteorologists lacked the budgets to replace it. The CWB stepped in to fill the data gaps and improve internal forecasting of annual wheat production with a low-cost weather station network.

Partnered with WeatherBug, the world’s largest privately operated weather data collection network with 9,000 stations worldwide, the devices monitor temperature, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, pressure, and precipitation.

All that data on the screen is nice, but it doesn’t mean that you can now make all your crop management decisions from the couch.

The data, which helps a producer stay on top of leaf emergence rates and the optimal time for herbicide application, complements, but isn’t intended to replace, field scouting.

“What it helps you to do is prioritize your field scouting, like what tests you should be focusing on at a given calendar date based on the geographical spread of your fields, and which fields you should be targeting,” he said.

FIELD-SCOUTING AID

Having access to up-to-the-minute weather information is particularly handy for spraying, particularly with regard to wind speed and direction.

It also shines when using fungicides to control fusarium head blight, he added, because the window for effective treatment – during the flowering stage – is only about seven days long.

“You want to get the biggest bang for your buck. You want to be as close as you can to that anthesis period of the main heads. Sometimes if you’re a day or two early, that’s not too bad, but you don’t want to be much more than a day late,” he said.

“But if you go too early, your fungicide effectiveness might run out before the critical period hits.”

Precise weather data helps a farmer to make key decisions, as well as avoid expensive mistakes, he added.

“It gives you a better idea of how the pathogen is developing versus what stage your crop is at,” said Grenier. “Whether your crop is far enough ahead or far enough behind it, or whether the two are in sync and you need to be concerned about it.” [email protected]

WEATHER WATCH: CWB agronomist Mike Grenier explains how an in-field weather station can be used to maximize the effectiveness of fungicide application on wheat and barley at the WADO summer tour in July.

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