Farmers and The Weather
How do farmers deal with the weather?
The simple answer to how farmers track the weather is with smartphones! For the most part I follow the weather the same way as anyone else does. I just check it more often because it has such drastic effects on my livelihood.
I go online to check the forecast at weather websites. My preferred forecasters are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service. I also spend a lot of time looking at the precipitation radar when there are storms coming.
In addition to actual rain gauges (devices that collect and measure rainfall) at various fields on my farm, I have an app on my phone called “Fieldview” that gives field by field weather forecasts and uses a radar based rain gauge to estimate precipitation over various periods (i.e. past 24 hrs, past 72 hrs, and season-to-date). It also tracks growing degree days (GDDs) which are a standardized measure of heat that crops receive. Tracking GDDs can help me predict what stage of growth the crops are in and when they will mature.
Of course, forecasts aren’t always reliable. However, they help me decide things like whether to work extra late to finish work in a field before it rains or maybe to wait to plant because a heavy rain event is predicted that could crust the soil and adversely affect seedling emergence (i.e. stop the seeds from growing properly). It’s always a tough decision because timing is very important when it comes to planting if you want to grow a successful crop. If you decide not to plant based on a forecast that turns out to be unreliable, the time wasted is impossible to get back.
Another problem is that it may rain on one field and not somewhere else. The extreme spread between fields on my farm is about 30 miles north and south and 20 miles east and west. That may not sound like much but it’s about a two hour trip one-way on a tractor. Scattered pop-up thunderstorms can make for a frustrating day.
Lastly, farmers know their fields. Soil types can change dramatically over very short distances. One field may be very sandy and well-drained, while across the road is heavy clay that stays wet much longer. The difference in soils is due to the way they were formed by glaciers and weathering thousands of years ago. Many fields also have a tile drainage system installed two to three feet below the surface to remove excess water that could flood a field and drown the crops. Others don’t have tile at all. Over time you get used to the order in which your fields will be workable again after a rain event. The difference can be several days from the driest fields to the wettest.