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For Delta farmers: Weather data aids decisions

A farmer has a much greater need to know local weather information than someone trying to decide whether or not to carry an umbrella, so for the last four years, Mississippi State University has provided this detailed data to Delta growers.

In 1996, the National Weather Service stopped offering agricultural weather and climate services from Stoneville and other similar locations nationwide. When this happened, farmers no longer could get ag weather forecasts, advisories and observations, frost forecasts, 30-day ag weather outlook or specialized ag services.

“Producers need immediate radar and weather information and cumulative data to make day-to-day decisions,” said Charlie Estess, northwest district Extension program director at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. “We're trying to help producers develop their plans and have the data and information they need at their fingertips to make wise decisions as they spend their resources.”

Since 1997, MSU has received U.S. Department of Agriculture funding to collect and provide important weather data for agriculture through Extension and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Today, nine Automated Weather Stations, the National Weather Service in Jackson, and the Southern Regional Climate Center in Baton Rouge supply weather data which is processed and offered to farmers.

One of the important uses this information serves is in helping cotton and rice farmers reduce production costs. The data collected known as DD60s aid cotton growers, while DD50s are for rice producers. DD stands for degree days, and are heat units based on a day's maximum and minimum air temperatures. For example, DD60 is an accumulation of heat units per day based on average temperatures over 60 degrees.

“Cotton is our No. 1 row crop and has traditionally generated the most revenue,” Estess said. “Cotton also has the highest operating cost, and the margin of profit has dramatically reduced over the last several years.”

Cotton insecticides cost an average of $85 to $90 per acre each year. A team at the Delta Research and Extension Center has researched and promoted a formula to lower insecticide costs by $30 an acre by eliminating an average of 2.5 insecticide applications a year. This program requires heat unit accumulation data to determine when pesticide applications can end. Armed with this data, farmers can stop spraying earlier than if they simply followed a calendar.

The rice DD50 program uses similar information. Farmers input the variety of rice and set the program according to the date of a particular development point. This program uses current weather data, along with historical data, to project the rice's growing season, and alert farmers to when they should do such things as fertilize, flood the field or watch for water weevils.

“The vital thing we needed was area-specific heat unit accumulation data for producers, researchers and others in the industry to be able to determine when to take certain actions,” Estess said.

Last year, about 55 percent of the Delta's 1 million acres of cotton used the DD60 system.

“The Weather Project provides data on heat unit accumulation that saved Delta farmers $16 million in 2000 by enabling some to eliminate an average of two insecticide applications on their fields,” Estess said.

Farmers access current and archived data from a website. From this site, viewers can see raw interactive daily weather data, radar and satellite information, forecasts, crop updates and other information.

Bart Freeland, Geographic Information System and weather research assistant in Stoneville, said the website offering the detailed weather information gets about 10,000 hits a month during the growing season.

“Some farmers use it on a daily basis to help monitor their crops' progress,” Freeland said.

Information from the Delta Weather Project is updated daily.

Producers can access this information online at

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