Farmers and the tools they use are changing with the weather. Mark Seeley, professor and extension climatologist at the University of Minnesota, says the agricultural response to climate change in the Midwest is already in progress. “We're seeing increased rainfall, longer growing seasons, warmer winters and higher dew points in the summer,” Seeley says. “Farmers are putting in more pattern tile drainage. They use split applications of fertilizer to reduce the risk of leaching and runoff losses during downpours. Plant disease pressures have increased in many areas due to increased moisture and higher dew points, which requires different variety selection and disease management strategies.”

Temperature and rainfall are just part of the picture for agriculture and the natural world. Research from Stanford University's Institute for International Studies has found that the earlier arrival of spring weather has shifted events such as egg laying, the end of hibernation and flower blooming ahead about five days per decade for temperature zone species.

Last season, our Team FIN farmers noted vast disparities in rainfall across the country. Nebraska suffered drought and crop failure while Minnesota had one of the wettest summers in years. But areas within regions were inconsistent. Pop-up thunderstorms caused floods and washouts in some areas while farms just a township away were left parched.

For many, planting corn by the calendar is already as outdated as growing potatoes by the phase of the moon. And the local weather report just doesn't cut it anymore. A host of weather Web sites, DTN and 24-hour weather channels only seem to whet the appetites of growers looking to gain an edge on nature and the markets.

What's the next wave? It could be site-specific, data-intensive weather instruments that bridge the gap between talking about the weather and doing something about it. Here's a look at just a few of the products you can buy today.

Oregon Scientific CableFree Weather Station

This new monitoring and forecasting unit from Oregon Scientific uses radio-frequency transmissions at 433 MHz and operates on solar power. The weatherproof sensors and solar collectors can be placed outdoors up to 300 ft. away from the main indoor control center. The device displays and records more than 20 weather conditions, including barometric pressure and trend, indoor and outdoor temperatures, wind speed and direction, wind chill, indoor and outdoor dew points, rainfall rate and daily/accumulated amounts, and indoor and outdoor relative humidity.

The system features memories for all conditions, such as high and low temperatures, as well as optional user-set alarms for all monitoring functions. Each alarm activates an audible/visual warning condition when a preset value, such as a wind-chill reading, is reached. A touch screen-activated, indoor LCD control unit with bright blue backlighting is 7 in. wide for desktop or wall-mount use. The unit operates on AC power (adapter included) and has a battery backup system (four AA batteries required). An optional PC Link cable plus two accessory software packages enable the user to monitor and graph all weather conditions on a personal computer. The system will work with Weather Lab from Ambient Software (www.ambientsw.com) and software from TriGeo (www.trigeo.com). The price of $549.95 includes solar cells, batteries and AC adapter. For more information, contact Oregon Scientific Co., Dept. FIN, 19861 S.W. 95th Pl., Tualatin, OR 97062, 800/853-8883, visit www.oregonscientific.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Vantage Pro

Davis Instruments claims it offers more options for on-screen graphing than its competitors. If you want graphs quickly, it is easier to use a Vantage Pro weather station as a stand-alone unit without hooking it up to a PC. The Davis units also update data every 2½ sec., whereas competitors update their data every 30 sec. And if you really want to rely on a home weather station to make weather forecasts, the Davis models may be more accurate because they factor in more variables and give more specific forecast readouts.

A “plus” version also offers solar radiation and UV sensors, which could be handy if you need to react to changing pest or crop conditions quickly. An optional data logger and PC software allow additional analysis. Davis offers some interesting Beta test weather software and weather links on its Web site as well.

Vantage Pro weather station prices range from $495 to $795. Contact Davis Instruments, Dept. FIN, 3465 Diablo Ave, Hayward, CA 94545, 800/678-3669, visit www.davisnet.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Degree-day recorder

This all-in-one unit from Spectrum Technologies lets growers track growing degree data, soil temperature, rainfall and other key growing condition data without the need to download to a computer. The tough LCD screen unit displays current conditions and recalls the last 30 days of high and low temperatures and daily values, as well as the last 12 months of historical weather and degree days. The LCD updates every 20 sec. and displays either English or metric units. Weather tracker system prices start at $299.

For $30, the company also sells a credit card-sized temperature logger that can be used in the soil, hog buildings or grain bins or under water. The logger uses a docking station and special software to upload data to a PC. For more information, contact Spectrum Technologies, Dept FIN, 23839 W. Andrew Rd., Plainfield, IL 60544, 800/248-8873, visit www.specmeters.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Crop alarm

The Sens-Alert crop monitoring system from Dynasen can alert you to changing conditions. Sens-Alert systems originally were developed at the request of alfalfa growers (initially in the Klamath Basin of Oregon) who were looking for a way to determine the best baling start time for windrowed alfalfa. They had been sleeping in their trucks all night waiting for the dew to come in and “toughen-up” the hay so that they could bale it without losing its nutrient-rich leaves.

Today's units can be configured to send an alert via digital cell phone transmitter, analog cell phone (bag phone), two-way radio transmitter or a simple “audible” alarm unit that can turn on a buzzer or alarm as the trip condition occurs.

The system can monitor and send alerts for factors such as temperature, relative humidity, odors, wind speed, dew, and general water intrusion or detection. It also can alert you to a general switch closure or opening (for example, it can be a shop security alert). With all of these inputs, you have the ability to select the “trip point” where the sensor instructs the transmitter to call out.

You also can call the unit from a phone to have it audibly read out the current sensor values to you. These units “speak” the values using a synthesized voice system. The units are self-contained with a battery, transmitter, antenna and enclosure. Price for these custom-built units typically ranges from $1,000 to $2,500. For more information, contact Dynasen Inc., Dept. FIN, 20 Arnold Pl., Goleta, CA 93117, 805/964-4410, visit www.sens-alert.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Weather data manager

An on-site weather station can give you more data than you know what to do with. That's where Weathernews Americas says it can help.

Weathernews claims its site-specific weather forecasting services are “farm-specific” to help growers easily understand how the weather will affect farming operations. Weathernews hardware includes industrial-quality instrumentation for the farm.

The company's Winds software uses environmental data gathered on the farm that can help you predict pest life cycles, run disease models, calculate evapotranspiration for irrigation scheduling and compute degree days for predicting harvest dates.

In addition to software you can download onto your PC, the company is developing a new Web-based, decision-support software called Agrilert. Agrilert will combine regional weather, site-specific forecasting and historical weather data to provide accurate and relevant weather information to individual growers.

Growers and agricultural partners can customize the Agrilert system to send alerts via e-mail, phone or pager when certain weather forecast thresholds are met. The Winds software enables a grower to collect large volumes of weather information in the fields, store the information in a database, and then analyze the information to make informed agronomic decisions.

The point-and-click feature of Winds enables users to plot various parameters such as the daily maximum temperature of one or more years on a single graph to compare growing seasons. A special climate analysis report included in the software computes the number of days during a month the temperature was above and below user-specified thresholds. Monthly and yearly extreme temperatures can be displayed in a tabular report. Daily minimum temperature can be displayed for every day of the entire year in a single report. Raw data can be exported directly to a spreadsheet or relational database for further analysis.

Because Winds is a Windows-based program, the set-up time and learning curve for the PC version of the software is very short. A person with knowledge of Windows will be up and running with the basic features of the program within a half hour. The U.S. list price for the PC version of the Winds software starts at $585. Custom tabular reports for specific user requirements can be created at an additional charge.

The Web-based version of Winds requires only a Web browser on the user's PC and a connection to the Internet. The U.S. list price for the Winds software for the Web service starts at $135 per month plus $15 per month per monitoring station. This price includes communications, data collection and Web hosting with a customer-specific Web page. For more information, contact Weathernews Americas Inc., Dept. FIN, 568 Manzanita Ave., Suite 1, Chico, CA 95926, 800/227-1989, visit www.us.weathernews.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Going to extremes


A new global warming study at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies warns of more “extreme precipitation events” in the Midwest. The institute's computer model shows crop loss from floods doubling to $3 billion annually in the next 30 years. In the Midwest Corn Belt, the high-tech simulation shows the average number of “extreme precipitation events” jumping by 30% by 2030 and 65% by 2090.

Insurance companies are taking notice. Worldwide, natural disasters cost insurers and reinsurance companies more than $70 billion in 2002. Experts attending United Nations talks on climate change have already sounded an alarm. Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, stated, “It's clear that global warming could bankrupt the insurance industry.”