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The Future of Forecasting | Spud Smart Exclusive

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futureofforcasting

The Future of Forecasting

Weather INnovations has turned weather modeling into a complex—and rewarding—service for the potato industry.

Weather INnovations Inc. is aptly named. The Chatham, Ont.-based company has turned weather forecasting and analysis for agriculture from a science into a fine art. According to its website, WIN “specializes in providing turnkey weather based monitoring and modelling solutions for agribusinesses, producer organizations, government agencies, researchers and others.”·

This summer, WIN launched a brand-new research project with the Ontario Potato Board which aims to evaluate an integrated system of environmental sensing and forecasting, crop production information, and mathematical modeling through a new website, www.ONpotatoes.ca. Using data collected from a test farm near Alliston, Ont., the company is building a goldmine of detailed weather and soil moisture information which will benefit both the test farm and the wider potato growing community.

“The main objective for the project, and the reason the site was launched, is primarily to help educate potato growers in Ontario about the technological capabilities of this type of program, and how it can assist growers to know when to irrigate and when to hold off,” says WIN’s Rory Sweeting.

weatherstation

Using remote weather stations like the one above, ONpotatoes.ca provides Ontario potato growers with near-real-time information to aid in irrigation scheduling. Source: Weather INnovations Incorporated.

Wireless weather

A weather station installed on the test farm is composed of a rainfall gauge, sensors that measure temperature and relative humidity, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, and a custom-built leaf-wetness sensor, which models the length of time a leaf stays wet after being exposed to moisture, combined with a soil moisture probe. Connected through wireless transmission units, information gathered from the sensors is delivered to the grower and then to WIN’s head office, where it is stored and then analyzed electronically.

“From a public perspective there’s a lot of information on the site,” Sweeting explains. “Basically the only thing a grower in the province isn’t able to see is this grower’s own soil moisture readings. In terms of what we have for site-specific information, including this site there are nine stations that we’ve tasked from our Ontario network toward this particular project, as far south as Leamington. From each of those sites there are a number of data sets available, including forecasts and weather history.”

One of the major benefits of the project is its convenience, according to Sweeting. Growers have access to a variety of weather tools, but have never before had access to so much specific information in real time—information which can be accessed wirelessly.

“You can get a reading through a handheld unit, but that involves somebody having to go to the field on a semi-regular basis to take those readings and put them into the computer,” he says. “But this is a comprehensive program that makes all the calculations for you, and throws them into the website. [Growers] can make irrigation decisions from anywhere—within just a few minutes you can check the weather forecast and the evapo-transpiration model right on site and make a decision on whether or not to irrigate.”

While the technology is being piloted only on one Ontario operation for now, according to Sweeting, other areas in Canada would definitely benefit from the technology—and are already benefiting from other services offered by Weather INnovations. In Manitoba, the organization offers near real-time information on weather and pest risks, along with “SPRAYcast,” the three-day advisory forecast designed to help growers know when it’s safe to spray. SPRAYcast is offered in Ontario as well·

For potato growers, the future of weather forecasting is growing brighter.

Julienne Isaacs

For more information on Weather INnovations or its online services, visit·www.weatherinnovations.com

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