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Weather network helps protect crops, cut irrigation.

Last year, Colorado onion growers who followed reports from a new statewide network of weather stations escaped fungusborne crop diseases that hit other growers who farmed as usual.

The reports gave warning to apply fungicides because near-ideal weather conditions were about to make possible an explosive fungal growth.

The network can also give growers a similar jump on fighting insect infestations.

And, "Because it provides much more detailed weather information across the state, the network can help growers fine-tune the amount of irrigation water they apply and perhaps reduce water use in some areas by up to 30 percent," says ARS agricultural engineer Harold R. Duke.

Key to the new 22-station network are standardization of equipment and timely interpretation of data. Previously, scientists had to use several-days-old data from only eight existing stations. And the stations did not always collect the same types of weather details.

This new network is a cooperative effort between ARS and Colorado State University. It has already shown it is possible to predict insect and disease outbreaks by using timely weather data and an advanced computer program. The computer analyzes the data to predict how many crop pests will be affected.

Originally developed for high-value crops like onions and beans, the program could be expanded in the future to provide information for all crops in the state.

The weather stations cost about the same as other, less sophisticated types on the market--$5,500. Each station daily records such weather-related information as minimum and maximum temperatures, vapor pressure, solar radiation, total wind movement during the day, precipitation, soil temperature, and minimum relative humidity.

A computer in Harold Duke's office in Fort Collins automatically calls each station between 2 and 4 a.m. to retrieve this information. It takes each station about 1 minute to download its stored weather data.

"We are using cellular telephones to connect some weather stations in the network. Previously we were forced to install expensive direct telephone wire lines to stations or choose less desirable locations closer to existing phone lines," says Duke. U.S. West, a local cellular company, has waived the usual monthly charge and reduced per-minute fees to 17 cents.
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Author:Senft, Dennis
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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