Agrometeorology: Weather Technology for Farmers Now and in the Future

Farmers weather the weather, whatever the weather 

Farmers have been keen students of the weather since the dawn of agriculture — and with the advent of meteorology, they gained access to better weather data than ever before. But how much can we truly predict, and what is the future of agricultural meteorology?

Once upon a time not too many centuries ago farmers relied on simple tools and techniques to understand and adapt to the weather. But times and technologies changed, making it easier and easier for farmers to predict the unpredictable and adjust their farming practices accordingly.

It was more of a revolution than an evolution. Sundials made way for satellites. Weather vanes made way for detailed weather apps that update their data every day, in real time. And that data gets fed into complex digital crop-modelling platforms, which collate and interpret the input and provide a wealth of information and insight to farmers.

“We give producers the ability to make better decisions that can avoid some level of risk and help them to adopt practices and make choices that will save them money, allowing them to produce larger yield or reduce the environmental impact, based on the accessibility of data,” says US agricultural meteorologist Dennis Todey.

“We help them to know, for example, when the soil is the right temperature and when the moisture is appropriate for putting a seed in the ground, thereby reducing the risk of replant,” he continues. “We can tell them when they should expect to get into a field, or we can tell them when they should expect to be able to harvest a crop. Some of this is monitoring, but a lot of it is modelling.”

Agrometeorology has also evolved to allow for better forecasting, especially in the short term.

“Forecasts of less than a week typically have a high amount of confidence, but we still lack the ability to accurately predict a season-long forecast,” agrees northern Iowa farmer Sean Arthur. Improved radar and satellite data, better analytics, and other weather technology allow farmers like Arthur to understand the rainfall and growing conditions on any given field. This information can be accessed at any point during the growing season or evaluated at the end of the season. 

“I utilize the Pioneer Seeds app on my phone, which is able to track weather by individual fields,” Arthur says. “It keeps track of total accumulation of rainfall and GDU (growing degree unit) accumulation throughout the season.”

 

The science of weather prediction

Agrometeorology Dark Sky
Agrometeorology Dark Sky

Once upon a time not too many centuries ago farmers relied on simple tools and techniques to understand and adapt to the weather. But times and technologies changed, making it easier and easier for farmers to predict the unpredictable and adjust their farming practices accordingly.

It was more of a revolution than an evolution. Sundials made way for satellites. Weather vanes made way for detailed weather apps that update their data every day, in real time. And that data gets fed into complex digital crop-modelling platforms, which collate and interpret the input and provide a wealth of information and insight to farmers.

“We give producers the ability to make better decisions that can avoid some level of risk and help them to adopt practices and make choices that will save them money, allowing them to produce larger yield or reduce the environmental impact, based on the accessibility of data,” says US agricultural meteorologist Dennis Todey.

“We help them to know, for example, when the soil is the right temperature and when the moisture is appropriate for putting a seed in the ground, thereby reducing the risk of replant,” he continues. “We can tell them when they should expect to get into a field, or we can tell them when they should expect to be able to harvest a crop. Some of this is monitoring, but a lot of it is modelling.”

Agrometeorology has also evolved to allow for better forecasting, especially in the short term.

“Forecasts of less than a week typically have a high amount of confidence, but we still lack the ability to accurately predict a season-long forecast,” agrees northern Iowa farmer Sean Arthur. Improved radar and satellite data, better analytics, and other weather technology allow farmers like Arthur to understand the rainfall and growing conditions on any given field. This information can be accessed at any point during the growing season or evaluated at the end of the season. 

“I utilize the Pioneer Seeds app on my phone, which is able to track weather by individual fields,” Arthur says. “It keeps track of total accumulation of rainfall and GDU (growing degree unit) accumulation throughout the season.”

 

The science of weather prediction

Now try to imagine monitoring hundreds or even thousands of acres of land, all the while having to understand and optimize everything from soil composition to moisture levels and overall plant health. It’s an almost-impossible task…unless, of course, you have eyes in the sky.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what modern farmers like Arthur have access to, in the form of crop-monitoring satellites that photograph every field and provide feedback on its status. This feedback gets sent to an app on the farmers’ mobile phones, allowing them to pinpoint any problem fields that might need further attention or a physical visit.

This technology not only empowers farmers to identify and respond to existing problems, but also allows them to anticipate problems that are just developing. This can save a field and its ultimate yield from potential disaster, helping farmers to monitor every inch of their land with greater accuracy and efficacy.

Satellites are just one piece of a greater and ever-growing crop-management puzzle. Local weather forecasts provide an additional layer of information, which gets fed into comprehensive crop-modelling platforms.

“Modelling data might tell you when to plant a particular seed, for example, or whether to apply additional nitrogen, based on the rainfall and temperature,” says Todey. Applying nutrients only when and where they are needed will not just enhance crop production, but also save the farmer both money and time.

In short, the key to agricultural success lies in the ability to make an informed decision and that can’t be done without access to reliable, real-time information.

 

What’s to come?

Agrometeorology - 2 men viewing a computer screen with charts
Agrometeorology - 2 men viewing a computer screen with charts

Now try to imagine monitoring hundreds or even thousands of acres of land, all the while having to understand and optimize everything from soil composition to moisture levels and overall plant health. It’s an almost-impossible task…unless, of course, you have eyes in the sky.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what modern farmers like Arthur have access to, in the form of crop-monitoring satellites that photograph every field and provide feedback on its status. This feedback gets sent to an app on the farmers’ mobile phones, allowing them to pinpoint any problem fields that might need further attention or a physical visit.

This technology not only empowers farmers to identify and respond to existing problems, but also allows them to anticipate problems that are just developing. This can save a field and its ultimate yield from potential disaster, helping farmers to monitor every inch of their land with greater accuracy and efficacy.

Satellites are just one piece of a greater and ever-growing crop-management puzzle. Local weather forecasts provide an additional layer of information, which gets fed into comprehensive crop-modelling platforms.

“Modelling data might tell you when to plant a particular seed, for example, or whether to apply additional nitrogen, based on the rainfall and temperature,” says Todey. Applying nutrients only when and where they are needed will not just enhance crop production, but also save the farmer both money and time.

In short, the key to agricultural success lies in the ability to make an informed decision and that can’t be done without access to reliable, real-time information.

 

What’s to come?

“The complex interactions between the atmosphere and crops will always need to be studied,” says Todey, “and producers will always need information on how to deal with the weather and climate information within their production systems.”  

That information is likely to become both more detailed and more accurate as our monitoring methods and tools continue to evolve. And this couldn’t come at a more important time as we adjust to a rapidly and drastically changing climate.

“We have to keep crops productive in the face of a changing climate,” says Todey. “As the climate shifts, new varieties of current crops and entirely new cropswill need to be grown in different areas. This requires a new understanding of how those crops will and can deal with climate conditions.”

“Changing weather conditions are inevitable,” adds farmer Sean Arthur. “If we could get to a point of accurately predicting the weather and understanding what challenges we will face during a growing season, it could allow for improved crop management and cost savings.”  

The bottom line? While the weather may be notoriously changeable, we are getting better and better at working with it and paving the way for a future that is at least a little less unpredictable.

Agrometeorology satellite weather image
Agrometeorology satellite weather image

“The complex interactions between the atmosphere and crops will always need to be studied,” says Todey, “and producers will always need information on how to deal with the weather and climate information within their production systems.”  

That information is likely to become both more detailed and more accurate as our monitoring methods and tools continue to evolve. And this couldn’t come at a more important time as we adjust to a rapidly and drastically changing climate.

“We have to keep crops productive in the face of a changing climate,” says Todey. “As the climate shifts, new varieties of current crops and entirely new cropswill need to be grown in different areas. This requires a new understanding of how those crops will and can deal with climate conditions.”

“Changing weather conditions are inevitable,” adds farmer Sean Arthur. “If we could get to a point of accurately predicting the weather and understanding what challenges we will face during a growing season, it could allow for improved crop management and cost savings.”  

The bottom line? While the weather may be notoriously changeable, we are getting better and better at working with it and paving the way for a future that is at least a little less unpredictable.