- Weather app helps producers cut back on water, pesticides -
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services covered all the bases in its name last September. It launched a new service that allows farmers access via computer or smart phone to real-time data on field temperatures, rainfall, wind and more.
“My Florida Farm Weather” started as a pilot program with the help of 79 participating agricultural operations. FDACS and the University of Florida’s Automated Weather Network partnered with the farms and ranches to install weather stations in their fields, which provide accurate information to assist with production decisions. Those include determining when to delay irrigation after rainfall, when to irrigate during frost or freezes and when to use fungicide or pesticide sprays. Wise production decisions result in reduction of water and chemical use, which is a plus for the environment and saves the producer money.
Recently, FFVA spoke with Erin Gillespie, press secretary in the office of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, for an update.
FFVA: How and why was this app created?
Gillespie: The idea for the program came from Commissioner Adam Putnam. After a freeze endangered many crops in Central Florida, he realized that the farmers were all calling each other to try to track exact temperatures in the fields instead of relying on a local weather monitor, which could be miles away. Commissioner Putnam realized this was a great opportunity to come up with a program that benefits farmers and all consumers who eat Florida produce. The department and producers share the cost of the program.
FFVA: What’s new since the September launch of the program? The announcement mentioned an iPhone platform being developed and historical data being made available. Are these available now? Anything else new?
Gillespie: The platform is available on Android phones and iPhones.
And we recently added a quick locator on the map that’s on the website, so that someone could start typing a farmer or weather station name and the choices will pop up.
We also have added the ability for producers to download weather station data from previous days or month to a computer. The producers are also now able to see the data from remote in-farm air temperature sensors that are located separate from the weather station itself.
We are working on adding an automatic notification to the producer and the vendor when the weather station is not functioning properly and when it has been repaired and is collecting and reporting data as expected.
FFVA: How many participants have signed on to the program so far?
Gillespie: There are currently more than 140 weather stations installed on farms and ranches.
FFVA: Are you hearing any feedback?
Gillespie: Those who use the program are very happy with it. We are in regular contact with the producers to determine how to improve their experiences and what they would like to see added. This year, we are launching a pilot project to determine if we can also collect soil moisture data. This could be used to get estimates of irrigation needs, thus reducing the amount of water the producer may need to put in the field.
FFVA: What are the future plans?
Gillespie: We are working with some of the vendors of the weather stations to improve communications in areas of the state that have poor cellular communications service. After the soil moisture data pilot is complete, we plan to install a feature that will give an automatic notification to the farmer via email or text message on when to turn on or off irrigation during freeze/frost events in order to best protect the crop.
Producers enrolled in Florida’s agricultural Best Management Practices are eligible to participate in the program. Once enrolled, they are eligible to receive funding for one weather station for each 300 acres of the operation. FDACS provides 75 percent of the cost of each device up to $5,000, with a total cap of $25,000 per producer.
Check out the website at http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu/mffw/ and click on a location indicated by a temperature reading to see how the system works.
To learn more about participating in this cost-share weather station program, call 850-617-1727 or send an email to AgBMPHelp@FreshFromFlorida.com.