Ev­ery tool a big help

Farm­ers rely on ac­cu­rate weather fore­cast­ing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CLASSIFIEDS/FEATURES -

In an in­dus­try that lives and dies by the weather, farm­ers like Dwight Fos­ter are look­ing for all the help they can get to know what’s com­ing.

“We use ev­ery tool in the tool­box we can get our hands on to try and fig­ure out what’s go­ing on,” said Fos­ter, co-owner of North Gower Grains south of Ot­tawa.

With about 25 farms to man­age, he has signed up with a ser­vice that plants weather sta­tions through­out his prop­er­ties that tell him whether the wind is calm enough to spray his fields or if it’s dry enough to till the earth.

“It’s more high-tech than ever. We have weather sta­tions on our farms, they’re telling us wind speed, wind di­rec­tion, tem­per­a­tures high and low, rain­fall amounts on al­most ev­ery one of our farms.”

Farm­ers like Fos­ter are on a never-end­ing quest for more de­tailed weather fore­casts as they try to in­crease yields on larger plots while con­tend­ing with more ex­treme weather, such as the record rains that have drenched parts of south­ern On­tario this year, or the droughts that have left vast fields bone dry in Saskatchewan.

Fos­ter said he in­stalled the weather sta­tion sys­tem upon the en­cour­age­ment of seed com­pa­nies, since know­ing ex­actly how much rain has fallen al­lows him to buy spe­cific seeds, de­pend­ing on the con­di­tions.

That kind of data could prove es­pe­cially use­ful this year, with some of Fos­ter’s farms soaked with triple the rain­fall com­pared with last year. En­vi­ron­ment Canada says the Ot­tawa area is on track for its wettest year.

In Saskatchewan, Todd Lewis is deal­ing with the op­po­site prob­lem. The area south of Regina where he farms has been strug­gling with some of the dri­est months on record.

Lewis uses a ser­vice that sets up per­son­al­ized weather sta­tions to bet­ter man­age the grains and pulses on his fam­ily farm. At roughly 4,500 hectares, the op­er­a­tion is part of an over­all trend that saw the av­er­age farm size in­crease al­most 13 per cent be­tween 2006 and 2016.

He said field-level in­for­ma­tion helps him make de­ci­sions around har­vest time, like whether to keep work­ing a few ex­tra hours be­fore an on­com­ing rain­fall or assess­ing if weaker crops were caused by parched soil.

He said he has no­ticed im­prove­ments in both the short- and long-term fore­casts even if he doesn’t like what they pre­dict.

“The long-range fore­cast­ing, un­for­tu­nately this year they’ve been kind of cor­rect,” he said.

“They pre­dicted dry and it’s been dry. So some­times you wish they were wrong.”

De­spite the bet­ter data, Lewis said there is still a de­gree of un­cer­tainty when it comes to know­ing what Mother Na­ture will bring.

“Any­thing out­side of a week, you’re go­ing to be pretty skep­ti­cal about it.”

Pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture com­pa­nies are, how­ever, hop­ing to re­duce that gap with the reams of in­for­ma­tion they’re col­lect­ing.

“I think ev­ery farmer, at the top of their wish list, would be bet­ter sea­sonal fore­casts so they can know what to ex­pect,” said Andy Nadler, prod­uct man­ager at Farm­ers Edge.

The com­pany, along with Cana­dian com­peti­tors like Weather In­no­va­tions Con­sult­ing and a grow­ing field of in­ter­na­tional ri­vals, are try­ing to use new ways to crunch data to help guide farm­ers.

Nadler said Farm­ers Edge is learn­ing from the more than 3,000 weather sta­tions it has in­stalled since start­ing to of­fer them about three years ago. It charges about $2 an acre (0.4 hectares) for its data man­age­ment ser­vice.

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Farm hand Con­nor Hunt bales a hay crop near Cre­mona, Alta., Mon­day, July 17, 2017. Farm­ers are on a never-end­ing quest for more de­tailed weather fore­casts as they try to in­crease yields on larger plots while con­tend­ing with more ex­treme weather, such as the record rains that have drenched parts of south­ern On­tario this year, or the droughts that have left vast fields bone dry in Saskatchewan.

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