Top Crop Manager

Features Fungicides Seed & Chemical
Introducing a winner

Forecast system assists spray decisions.


February 16, 2008
By Karen Dallimore*

Topics

A good weather forecast will tell growers what to expect from the skies but the team at Weather INnovations Incorporated (WIN) in Chatham, Ontario, will tell growers what they expect that forecast to mean. “We try to find relationships with weather and specific issues,” explains Ian Nichols, WIN’s business manager. WIN takes weather information, analyzes it and produces advisories to help producers with their management decisions relating to spraying advisories for fungicides, irrigation and a wide range of other specific services.

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This solar powered weather station is equipped with wind, rain, temperature and relative humidity sensors, as well as a tube inserted in the ground to measure soil moisture.
Photos Courtesy Of Dr. Ron Pitblado, Weather INnovations Incorporated.

Collecting raw weather data is just the beginning. The question Nichols asks most frequently is: “How can we package it to make it useful for a grower?” So far the possibilities seem endless.

Up until 1999, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs delivered the weather-based TOMcast program to tomato producers. The TOMcast program aids in decision making for fungicide application for early blight, septoria leaf spot and anthracnose control on processing tomatoes. When the government revised its delivery of services, Nichols and plant pathologist Dr. Ron Pitblado, the author of TOMcast and now WIN’s research manager, stepped up to the plate and developed their own delivery system for the program.

Nichols remembers thinking, “We’ve got a good model. Producers are using it. Let’s do it.” They bought three weather stations and began the Ontario Weather Network (OWN), which has now evolved to become Weather INnovations Incorporated, or WIN, as of January 2007.

WIN’s services are as varied as the weather itself. In addition to TOMcast they offer DONcast for wheat
producers, a service that provides maps to forecast the amount of deoxynivalenol toxin (DON) in winter wheat that allows producers to decide at the time of heading whether a control measure is desirable, and BEETcast for cercospora leaf spot control in sugar beets. SPUDcast, a program that addresses fungicide application for early and late blight in potatoes, is now in the development stage.

Aside from their specific forecast models for agriculture, they also provide accurate weather data to
companies as an independent service, such as rainfall data for the forage derivative program at Agricorp, temperature validation for the ice wine harvest for the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) program, or data for weather derivative insurance plans at the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Commission.

In 2006, WIN teamed up with Environment Canada to develop a pilot program for a Spraying Conditions Advisory. Until recently, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has required certain pesticide buffer zones – unsprayed areas that have the potential to create management issues as reservoirs for insects and diseases. This project offers a three day weather forecast, narrowed down to specific regions, in order to more accurately identify the best spraying times during the next three day window. This is being studied as an alternative to adjusting the size of the currently required buffer zones.

One hundred growers were asked to participate in the pilot project; one-third of those responded to the survey and 62 percent found the program useful enough to adjust their practices in 2007. The balance indicated that they would like the information available for 2008 even though the information did not change their plans in 2007. According to Nichols, the forecast model that WIN has developed has the potential to provide the Spraying Conditions Advisory right across Canada and they are now sorting out the business plan to do so.

Another project has WIN working with Marc Knight, agriculture manager with France based Bonduelle North America, which recently acquired Carriere Foods in Tecumseh, Ontario, near Windsor.

In 2003 the bean leaf beetle began to migrate northward from the US to threaten Bonduelle’s 2500 acres of green and wax beans, causing some severe damage to bean pods just prior to harvest and affecting quality at the consumer level. The same beetle has been targeting soybeans as well. “We weren’t prepared,” Knight admits.

How does the pest behave? Is the beetle more active in warmer weather? When do the first and second generation adult beetles develop and how is that correlated to weather? Will mild winters increase the threat? In a co-operative effort with the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, Bonduelle is now working with WIN as part of their effort to better understand the life cycle of the bean leaf beetle as it relates to the weather.

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The bean leaf beetle has been migrating steadily northward into southern Ontario, damaging green and wax bean pods prior to harvest, and is also targeting soybeans.

“In the food business we need optimal product without spraying more than you have to,” says Knight, who needs to know when it is best to start scouting and when to spray. Although they do have a spraying plan in place, Knight hopes to use the data they will collect to optimize their program by the end of 2008 in case the bean leaf beetle decides to migrate further to the 3500 acres of beans they have in the Strathroy area.

Potato growers can look forward to SPUDcast, a system presently under development, to assist them in deciding when to spray to control early and late blight in potatoes. WIN uses ‘SPUD’ values to rate the weather conditions of each day according to their favourability to the development of these foliar diseases.

For irrigation purposes WIN also creates charts from multi-level soil moisture readings that allow growers to almost ‘see’ the soil moisture on the graphs. With water issues becoming more prevalent, this data will become very important to help producers decide when to irrigate. One company even has temperature probes stuck in their sugar beets to help growers decide when to harvest.

Already, programs like DONcast have taken the leap onto the worldwide stage, running in Uruguay in collaboration with researchers there. “Crops are similar and disease patterns are similar,” says Nichols, adding that with a few adjustments there is no reason that WIN’s forecast programs cannot be used around the globe.

Nichols sees his company as playing an intermediary role between meteorologists, researchers and growers, helping producers to use science on a regular basis. While some programs such as wind machine operation in grape vineyards or irrigation need to be one-on-one to provide the accuracy needed, Nichols advises smaller independent growers to contact their grower organization to work together to make the best use of the time and resources required to deliver custom programs.

Producers need to be able to access information that is timely, precise and clear, while researchers need to improve their models using field data. WIN plays a role in ensuring that information continually flows both ways. -end-