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Weather spies aid input buys

High-tech weather equipment can help you plan seed purchases and avert lawsuits.

Last summer, Illinois grower Mike Deutsch planted his 113-day corn nearly a month late because of wet fields. While weather delayed his planting, weather data from his farm helped him decide not to switch to a shorter-season hybrid.

His gamble on the 113-day corn paid off. Even though Deutsch planted the corn May 27, the longer-maturing hybrid produced a bumper crop in a shorter season, just as Deutsch expected based on his weather information.

The Maple Park, IL, grower is among an increasing number of farmers who now record weather on their farms with computerized equipment. Personalized weather systems provide important records like wind speed and direction on spraying days, average heat units for the farm and conditions conducive to disease. Growers like Deutsch use these records to help chose hybrids, short-circuit potential lawsuits and treat a field before a yield loss occurs.

Measuring heat units Deutsch learned from his weather information that later-maturing hybrids often adapt to a shorter season even if heat units run short. Typically, a 113-day hybrid needs about 2,710 heat units to fully mature. But he has seen hybrids mature earlier and with fewer heat units. This gave him the confidence to plant the 113-day hybrid late.

After planting, he checked the number of heat units daily from weather equipment installed on his 40-ft. tower used for television and two-way radio. Number of heat units and other weather information were downloaded to his computer through a cable running from the tower into his office.

Last year's sunny weather worked in Deutsch's favor. Heat units quickly built up and he relaxed. In the end, the hybrid produced a bumper crop with about 2,400 heat units. He believes the hybrid outproduced any earlier-maturing hybrid he might have planted.

The increased yields Deutsch received probably paid for his investment in weather equipment. His Weather Wizard system from Spectrum Technologies cost about $1,200 when it was installed three years ago.

"I don't think I could farm without it now," Deutsch says. "It is one more piece of information to use, ask questions about and learn from. I've learned how hybrids adapt. I know I can push maturities and take a chance. I've also learned sunny days push heat units more than temperature."

Provides protection Deutsch also learned that a computer file of his farm's weather provides insurance verification. He recently used a computer wind graph to verify wind damage to a crop for an insurance claim.

Other growers keep computer records about weather on spraying days to verify wind direction and speed. These records will serve as evidence in case a problem arises from the spraying.

Severe disease risk also may be spotted with weather equipment and software, according to Mike Thurow, Spectrum Technologies. For example, software can suggest when conditions are ripe for a severe outbreak of gray leaf spot in corn and white mold in soybeans. "Long wet periods with moisture on the leaves and the sun not drying it out will get gray leaf and mold going,"

Thurow explains. "More and more farmers, even though they can't change it, now look at how weather compares from year to year and its impact on crops and maturity," he adds. Weather must be a variable taken into account with precision agriculture.

Plus, growers can use weather information for other buying decisions such as how much LP gas to purchase for drying the crop at harvest.

"The technology of weather instruments is more affordable than ever," Thurow says. "It used to be prohibitive in price."

A look at several businesses that sell weather stations shows an array of equipment and options available for growers. Here are just a few of the products available on the market today.

Mini weather station Thurow of Spectrum Technologies suggests a simple, affordable system called the WatchDog for first-time weather watchers. The WatchDog is a portable digital data logger that can be attached to a post in any field and left unattended for months. The basic unit to measure temperature costs about $200. A mini radiation shield to protect the device if installed in the field is $44. Growers may connect a rainfall collector that empties itself for $84. Other sensors such as a $25 soil temperature probe may be added.

The WatchDog includes a battery and enough memory for two to three months of data, measured every half hour. A grower may download the data into a laptop computer at the site or bring the logger back into the office for downloading. The WatchDog is just one of many weather devices available from the company. Contact Spectrum Technologies Inc., Dept. FIN, 23839 W. Andrew Rd., Plainfield, IL 60544, 800/248-8873.

Wireless equipment A weather station from Oregon Scientific eliminates the wires from the weather equipment to the office monitor. The company's cable-free weather station, model WMR918, features solar power and sells for $550. The model includes an indoor touch-screen control sensor that displays 20 weather conditions, from barometric pressure and trends to rainfall rate and daily and accumulated amounts.

The model includes sensors for temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, and rainfall. The system also offers a weather forecasting system with weather icons. The forecasts, which are based on electronic barometric-pressure sensing, are 75% accurate, according to the company. Solar cells, batteries and an AC adapter also are included.

Growers who want to monitor and graph the weather information on a computer may purchase a software and cable package not included in the system.

For more information about this model and other weather equipment, contact Oregon Scientific, Dept. FIN, 19861 S.W. 95th Place, Tualatin, OR 97062, 800/853-8883.

Industrial-strength reporting A heavy-duty weather station for the more serious weather watcher is available from RainWise.

the System 10 Remote (S-10R) weather station for farms. The unit can sit anywhere gathering information for up to a year. Growers may download the information into a laptop or take the logger to an office. A radio may be incorporated to send the information from 1 to 18 miles.

The system includes a monopod mount for sensors. Ten sensors are available: wind speed, wind direction, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, solar radiation, hours of sunlight, rainfall, precipitation and leaf wetness. Connections are provided for evaporation, soil moisture, soil temperature, submersible temperature, water level and snow depth. The system and software cost $3,385.

The price of the company's line of industrial stations ranges from $1,500 to $10,000. Consumer weather stations cost from $359 to $2,990. Contact RainWise Inc., Dept. FIN, 25 Federal St., Bar Harbor, ME 04609, 800/762-5723.

Economical weather watching A company that began by building pocket barometers offers a line of weather equipment for home and farm use. The Ultimeter 2000 System from Peet Bros. includes a keyboard/display unit that connects to a wind speed and direction sensor and indoor and outdoor temperature sensor. It also provides barometric pressure and an alert when pressure quickly drops, indicating a possible storm. The system sells for $379 and includes all cables needed for installation. Growers may purchase other sensors to increase the system's capabilities.

The model 800 offers the same features as the Ultimeter 2000, except that it does not measure barometric pressure. It sells for $249. The company manufactures a full line of weather equipment. Contact Peet Bros. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, 1308 Doris Ave., Ocean, NJ 07712, 800/872-7338.

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