SFF L06-005: Weather forecasting for enhanced profits and environmental protection
This project co-ordinated small groups of cropping farmers in Canterbury with a commitment to developing much better site specific weather forecasts and taking advantage of related technologies to improve production efficiency and safeguard the environment. Access to detailed ‘customised' weather forecasting would greatly enhance cropping farmers' ability to optimise use of irrigation, agrochemicals and fertilisers and plan other farm operations.
We identified an opportunity to co-ordinate a regional weather station network, to use computer modelling to predict disease risk, irrigation need, and even arable crop yields in advance. This would reduce unnecessary expenditure on hardware, reduce weather related risks, increase profitability and save farmers and the environment from wasteful application of chemicals and/or water.
A network of stations and access to appropriate crop and disease models would help farmers make the best practical and timely decisions on spraying, irrigating, or even harvesting crops. Farmers would not all need their own weather stations, as they would be able to obtain property relevant predictions of the time of arrival of weather events or occurrence of infection periods via either phone messages or internet options.
A project team of information and technology providers worked with our focus group to identify the existing and potential uses of new weather and related prediction technologies for arable cropping in Canterbury.
Specialised weather forecasts were generated for each of three FAR operated weather stations at Methven, Chertsey and St Andrews. Initially only one site was to be used, but additional support from Met Service and HortPlus provided forecasts for each site.
Three Focus Groups were established, one at each site. All members received daily email forecasts and could access to the HortPlus MetWatch website for additional information.
The forecasts predicted wind speed and direction, temperature and rainfall at hourly intervals for up to three days ahead. On-line access enabled users to view historic weather data, and to view weather forecasts for other stations in the HortPlus MetWatch network.
Telephone interviews were conducted with key people associated with each of the three stations and responses analysed.
In essence, users found the forecasts ‘surprisingly accurate and reliable’. There was a drop off with distance from the stations, and forecasts were not always correct. No one factor was always incorrect.
Users stated that if disease prediction was integrated into the forecasts the service would be worth paying a subscription for. As it was, most felt the information added only marginally to their farming business, and that other free sources were adequate.
A schedule of suitable weather stations sited in Canterbury and other arable regions has been compiled and mapped. In all, almost 90 stations were identified. Those of dubious quality or outside cropping areas were eliminated. The remaining 27 weather stations appeared to be monitoring required parameters and were located in relevant positions.
Problems remotely accessing the three FAR weather stations caused significant problems early in this project. These were finally resolved following a software update. Data was then reliably captured on a daily basis.
A second key problem was related to the calibration of the MetService weather forecasts. This suffered a setback when incorrect locations were used. An error in translating co-ordinates from one grid system to another was the cause. The apparent sites were over 10km out. Forecasts were thus in error and would not calibrate.
This did highlight that there are very significant effects of location over that scale. Once a base level of calibration was achieved, forecasts were sensible. Unfortunately some members of the Focus Groups had determined the forecasts were unreliable by that stage, and did not start to use them once problems were resolved.
Download the Complete Weather Forecasting Project Report 1.2 MB
The Sustainable Farming Fund
Foundation for Arable Research
Contributing Science Providers
- Page Bloomer Associates
- Hort Plus