Easily accessible weather data help producers time sprays, monitor crop conditions

02/01/2011 12:00:00 PM

By Tom Burfield

Modern technology has vastly simplified the tasks of monitoring weather conditions and collecting information that can help you decide when to apply fungicides and take other steps to protect your crops.

Now, instead of venturing out to a remote area of your field to check a thermometer, rain gauge or wind-monitoring device, you simply make a few mouse clicks on your computer or push a few buttons on your smart phone or hand-held personal digital assistant.

Growers in the New York area can visit the Network for Environment and Weather Application website—http://www.newa.cornell.edu—to instantly access information, such as temperature,leaf wetness, precipitation, relative humidity, solar radiation, wind speed and wind direction, says Art DeGaetano, professor of earth and atmosphere science and director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. They also can find information on dozens of pests and diseases.

The center serves as a repository for weather observations from individual growers, airports and other stations that collect data.

Expanded site

The site, which recently expanded to include Massachusetts and Vermont, is geared toward apple, grape, onion and potato growers, says Juliet Carroll, fruit integrated pest management coordinator and NEWA project leader.

Plant pathologists who study diseases in plants and entomologists who study insects that attack plants and cause crop loss have been developing these types of phenology models, she says. And weather stations with rain gauges and thermometers have become the rule.

The new websites allow growers not only to access the information from a computer or smart phone, but they also provide historic records growers can refer to without having to personally input data, she says.

Once growers access that data, they can make informed decisions about where and when to apply pesticides or take other actions, DeGaetano says.

The advantage of the site, he explains, is that it simplifies raw data accumulated by scientists and researchers whose motivation is to publish the information in scientific literature.

“Typically, these models aren’t very user friendly in their research form,” DeGaetano says. “We’ve taken the model and linked them into a very user-friendly format.”

Timing is everything

The NEWA site can help growers time their pesticide applications more efficiently, minimizing pesticide use, Carroll says. The data can help growers determine whether insects—such as Oriental fruit moth and codling moth—are going through a period of their lifecycles when they might be ready to lay eggs, and it can let growers know that it’s time to spray insecticide.

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