The unpredictability of weather has always been one of the biggest challenges growers face – and the recent effects of climate change have really driven that home. From extreme temperatures and wildfires in California to excessive rain in Michigan and unusually cold spring temperatures in Nebraska, there’s no question that growers are facing more weather-related complications now than ever before.
There’s not a whole lot growers can do to change the weather (aside from adopting sustainable farming practices to reduce their impact on the environment, that is). No amount of technology can get your season started earlier, and, when it comes to protecting your field from torrential early-season rain, well, there’s no app for that.
But technology can make a difference when it comes to collecting and tracking weather data. And that data, when combined with crop health analytics, can offer you insights that help you more accurately estimate your yield, create a harvest plan, and determine whether there are any steps (like treatments, replants, or repairs) you could take to maximize this season’s efforts.
Using Growing Degree Days
The crucial role that growing degree days (GDD) play in the growth cycle – of any crop – is indisputable. And while flying a drone to collect aerial imagery or pulling analytics using weather and satellite data won’t change the number of GDDs in your area (or how your crops respond to them), having those data-driven insights at the ready, then being able to compare that information to the current health of the crops in question, is highly valuable – for a couple of reasons.
For starters, let’s talk about the importance of specificity. While many growers will still prefer to manually track the day’s high and low temperatures in a notebook for reference, those manual methods of monitoring weather require time and effort that growers can use to better effect elsewhere. Plus, it’s important to note that completely accurate records are difficult to keep in this way.
Now, we have the ability to track, down to the decimal point, what each day’s temperature range looked like, how long it stayed within a certain range, and whether any other notable weather events, like rain or wind, were present.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Because modern agriculture data systems can automate the data collection process and compare data points from multiple sources, that makes it easy to take that GDD data and compare it to crop health data, which may be based on NVDI imagery taken by satellite.
Seeing where the crops are on that data point and comparing that to the GDD data and where you are in the season provides you with information you need to make crucial decisions, like:
- Are there areas of your field that are not lining up with what you’d expect for crop health based on the GDD data? Now is the time to determine whether any additional treatments should be considered or if action should be taken.With the aerial imagery data, you can also determine with incredible precision where in the field there are spots in need of attention, saving you time and money in scouting and treatment.
- What should your harvest plan look like? Are there parts of acreage that will be ready for harvest early? How can you devise a plan that makes the best use of your time and resources – and what can you do now to ensure that plan is actionable when the time comes? If you need to enlist additional labor, adjust your sales strategy, or make other changes, knowing ahead of time is always helpful.
- What trends should you take note of? Weather is becoming more extreme on a global scale, but what matters for your crops is knowing, to the best of your ability, what to expect in your county, for your field. Collecting, analyzing, and tracking this weather data from one season to the next gives you the best possible insight into how temperatures and other weather events are changing over the years in your region. And that allows you to adjust your plan to be as prepared as possible, whether that’s extending pre-plant to avoid a late-spring cold snap, investing in crop insurance for crops that have become more risky, or even looking into alternative crops if you notice strong weather trends that no longer benefit your current crop.
And, another benefit of modern agriculture technology is the fact that systems like Sentera’s FieldAgent can be set up to send you notifications for any noteworthy weather-based events, enabling you to respond in near-real time to potential problems caused by excessive rain, hail, wind, or frost/freeze, as well as unexpected drops in crop health values or conditions that make disease more likely.
Tech might not solve all your weather-related problems in agriculture, but there’s plenty that satellite and weather data can do to help you get through whatever proverbial storm comes your way.