Weather Stations at Work

Acting as sentries, weather stations are in the field all day, every day to collect and report important crop production data. The Farm Journal Test Plots crew has installed and used different types of systems provided by Onset Computer Corporation and Spectrum Technologies.

"The value of installing and maintaining weather stations is knowledge,” says Isaac Ferrie, who works in the test plots. "These tools let us see what is happening environmentally out in the field.”
There is a central weather station at the plot headquarters that collects temperature, humidity, rainfall and wind direction and speed. There are systems placed in our row spacing studies (in both corn and soybeans) to collect temperature and humidity data. There are also systems at our tile spacing study to collect precipitation, temperature and soil moisture data.

"Our main weather station helps us monitor growing degree days and insect heat units,” Ferrie says. "By tracking the heat units, we know what insects to scout for and what stages of growth the pests are in.”
The test plots have evaluated row spacing and population and their effect on crop production since they began 19 years ago.

"We have soybean row spacings including 10", 15", twins and 30",” Ferrie explains. "We can tell when the canopies of the different row spaces close by looking at the temperature and humidity data.”

The weather stations help us understand the effects of row spacing and population on disease control, insect pressure and other production considerations. It's an ongoing effort to confirm the data across the variance of multiple crop years. Weather data loggers will continue to be placed in the field to collect data in soybeans and corn.

In 2009, the crew added measurements of CO2 concentration within the crop canopies. The CO2 sensor equipment is provided by Vaisala Corporation.

Other sets of data loggers collect information from belowground. The crew installed soil moisture sensors at two long-term tile spacing studies.

The fields have tile installed at 30', 60' and 120' spacings. The moisture sensors are installed at 1', 2' and 3' at each of the tile spacings and in an area without tile to understand how water moves through the soil profile.

"The soil moisture sensors can provide a picture of how rainfall correlates with soil moisture and which tile spacing is moving the rain faster,” Ferrie says.

Look for the results from our long-term tile study in a future issue of Farm Journal.

The data loggers used at the row spacing and tile studies can store up to three months of data. The crew routinely goes out to the fields to download the data.

One problem the crew has encountered is rodents destroying the wires of the systems. To combat the pests, the wires are threaded through PVC pipe, which is then filled with expansion foam.

New technology can help streamline the process of collecting data. The test plots crew is working to connect the data loggers to radio transmitters that can upload data wirelessly to a laptop computer. 

You can e-mail Margy Fischer at [email protected]