The Soil and Water Science Program at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, in collaboration with the Florida Automated Weather Network, or FAWN, and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, have developed a weather station cost-share program for agricultural producers in Florida.
Weather-related information is essential to Florida’s agricultural producers for making important irrigation, freeze protection and other production decisions. For many years, growers have routinely monitored weather conditions at the nearest FAWN weather station and used irrigation scheduling and freeze protection tools on the FAWN site to make informed decisions.
With this new cost-share program, growers will have the ability to view weather data at their farms anywhere via the Internet. Florida growers will also be able to use their real-time data in FAWN tools to make these decisions based on conditions at their sites.
Growers rely primarily on FAWN weather data and tools to plan for irrigation and freeze protection. These tools on FAWN have proven to be very useful in helping growers save both water and dollars – IFAS estimates show use of FAWN tools can save about 20 percent of water for irrigation and up to one hour of run time on cold nights, potentially saving millions of dollars and billions of gallons of water.
However, some farms can be many miles from a FAWN site. Therefore, the weather station may not provide the level of specificity needed to ensure growers are operating their irrigation systems during optimal times for freeze protection.
Differences in measurements between a farm and the closest FAWN site can cause growers to operate their systems longer than is actually needed, thus wasting large amounts of water. Data from grower-owned stations will greatly improve freeze protection.
Enhancing site-specific data
Site-specific data from a network of grower-owned weather stations can maximize irrigation efficiency on cold nights and substantially reduce the amount of water used for irrigation and on freeze nights.
Growers enrolled in FDACS Best Management Practices are eligible to participate in the program, and the state established cost-sharing to reimburse each participant up to 75 percent of the cost of the weather stations.
Growers with operations of less than 300 acres of production land can apply for one station and up to five additional temperature sensors. Those with larger operations could apply for one station and up to five additional temperature sensors per 300 acres of production land.
The University of Florida, FAWN and FDACS have worked closely with several weather station vendors to ensure minimum sensor specifications to provide the most accurate weather information for the growers at a reasonable cost.
Each weather station measures air and dew point temperatures, wind speed and direction, relative humidity and rainfall amount. As with FAWN stations, data from each farm-based station are retrieved every 15 minutes and are collected either through a local connection to the Internet or cellular modem.
The weather data can be viewed 24 hours at day at http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu.
Kelly T. Morgan is an assistant professor and soil scientist at the Southwest Research and Education Center in Immokalee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.