Early warning helps growers react to weather, wet or dry

Article taken from the Agronomist & Arable Farmer

Plantsystems, the precision technology arm of Agrovista, has developed new ways of making sure that growers can make the most of the available technology to predict and respond to weather events and their effects on crops in different growing conditions.

Weather has the biggest impact on the development of crops; it also impacts heavily on every aspect of a farming business, including staff and enterprise management.  Producers are so affected by the weather that they need accurate live and forecast information to help plan the working week.  Not only does this allow them to plan work priorities, but it can also predict disease levels and timing in crops.

“The main thing is to help growers plan farming activities,” says James Martin of Plantsystems.  “We offer an invaluable range of weather-based tools for growers, including the most advanced daily weather forecast which includes a six-day spraying conditions assessment.

“The first thing we do for people is to provide them with a detailed weather and spraying forecast,” he says.  “It extrapolates into ‘when can I go out spraying?’”

Enterprise efficiencies

The report also provides information on daily evaporation and rainfall in millimetres.  It is delivered by email in the early hours of the morning.  This allows managers to make decisions about daily jobs for the workforce and prioritise labour and weather-dependent tasks such as spraying or spreading and target them at the best times of the day for optimal conditions.  It allows growers to easily see the weather conditions for their local area throughout the day and allocate jobs according to conditions, maximising enterprise efficiencies.

The next step beyond the daily weather forecast is to put in equipment to monitor the weather on the unit itself.  These weather stations can either be based at a central part of the farm, or placed in the relevant field or crop.  Farms with complex topography or a large area to cover can benefit from more than one station.  The weather station records the parameters required for that location and crop and delivers the data by GSM connection, usually every 30 minutes, to a secure service.

The stations can be set up for any situation and the sensors can be set up for any situation and the sensors fitted will reflect the parameters required.  Usually these are wind (speed and direction), a rain gauge, leaf wetness, humidity, evapotranspiration, UV measurement and temperature, and they can be connected to a soil probe for soil moisture readings.  They are powered by a highly efficient solar cell so can be remote from power sources.

Real-time Conditions

The data is transferred to the server where it is immediately available online from any internet-enabled device.  This allows a grower to see remotely the exact conditions in real time at any weather station on the network.  This actual data is then enhanced with a forecast prediction based on other data fed into the network, giving a highly accurate local forecast.

Alarms and monitoring parameters can be set for any climatic variation to alert the user by email or text to a weather event.  The data collected from each station is held permanently on the server, allowing users to look back at the weather history for a particular site.

This data is also fed into a set of complex algorithms based around known disease and pest development criteria.  This is then displayed in the same internet-based format as the weather forecast and allows growers to see the real-time development of crop disease and allow management decisions to be made based on risk.

“If farming a large area, it can help to see where the conditions are fit for spraying and other farming activities,” Mr Martin says.  “We feed the data into a disease risk models, for example for blight.  It gives you a prediction three days in advance.  It can enable you to get on a protective spray or, if you aren’t able to get out in time, get on a curative product.  It helps you to justify your spray timing or product to suit protocol or harvest interval.”

The range of diseases covered by the system is quite impressive, with upwards of about 50 pathogens and some key pests now available.

So far the main use and take-up has been in the higher-value crop areas such as field-scale vegetables (including potatoes), salads and fruit crops, but modules are also available for other broad-acre crops.

Live Feed

Plantsystems’ weather stations and soil moisture stations supply a live feed and a historical record of accurate information to your PC, tablet or smartphone.  This information is also combined with the weather forecast to generate tailor-made advice to help control crop diseases and to optimise the use of farming inputs.

To improve irrigation management, Plantsystems also offers a soil moisture monitoring and irrigation scheduling service.  The principle is the same as the full weather station but utilises a professional solar-powered GSM/GRPS monitoring unit with rain gauge, multi-level soil moisture and soil temperature sensors.  These sensors can monitor and provide data for a range of depths from 10cm to 90cm.  This allows the grower to remotely check the current soil moisture at any time using an internet-enabled device such as a smartphone or computer.

These stations are deployed in reference crops in almost any location and provide continuous measurements to the grower.  The computer system and server produces an email alert when soil water content drops below a planned threshold and when significant irrigation or rainfall is captured.

Accurate irrigation

The stations also monitor and record rainfall events and irrigation amounts so accurate measuring of applied water is made regardless of the type of irrigator used.

Accurate applications of the correct amount of water via an irrigator are notoriously hard to do.  By using this system growers can see the amount of soil moisture available at different depths and apply the correct amount of irrigation required to keep the crop at its optimum without risking over-watering or allowing drought to affect it.  Other benefits include reducing water usage and adhering to protocols and environmental restrictions, reducing the wash-out of nutrients, improving crop quality, optimising water, fertiliser and energy input and making best use of available irrigation equipment.

Air temperature and humidity sensors can be added to moisture stations for frost or disease monitoring purposes.

The units are installed by Plantsystems and training and advice are provided by the Plantsystems team of expert agronomists.  Plantsystems takes current soil moisture readings and combines these with local weather forecast data to produce a weekly report sent by email which predicts future irrigation requirements.  The inclusion of soil moisture readings from soil moisture sensors dramatically improves the accuracy of irrigation scheduling as soil conditions are continuously measured.

 

14 April 2014

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