New Extension Weather Stations To Monitor Iowa Soil Moisture

New Extension Weather Stations To Monitor Iowa Soil Moisture

ISU is upgrading its weather stations at research farms to track soil moisture and hopes to eventually have one in every county.

Farmers will be able to check soil moisture levels around the state when Iowa State University's Department of Agronomy upgrades weather stations at several research and demonstration farms. With the 2012 drought conditions continuing into 2013 across Iowa this winter, ISU Extension climatologist Elwynn Taylor says the upgraded weather stations will offer a risk management tool for crop producers.

"The updated stations will provide information on the amount of soil moisture available and the actual crop water consumption," Taylor says. "Farmers will be able to know the yield limits being placed on crop yield by moisture stress as the season progresses."

TRACKING SOIL MOISTURE: This is the first new, upgraded weather station in ISU's network; it was installed at the research farm at Calumet in northwest Iowa last fall. Upgrades to a network of older weather stations around the state will allow farmers to check soil moisture at ISU research farms and other locations in Iowa via Internet. There are 13 sites in Iowa with the older weather stations, mostly on ISU research farms. ISU hopes to eventually have a new, state-of-the-art weather station in every county.

The new stations will replace the ones that have been monitoring weather data at the ISU research and demonstration farms for more than 30 years. Taylor says the original units made up the world's first nonmilitary network of automatic reporting weather stations. They were networked, as the new ones will be, so their readings can be monitored on the Mesonet weather website

First new weather station was installed at ISU research farm in northwest Iowa last October

This past fall, Taylor embarked on a project to upgrade the established ISU system of 13 weather stations located around the state. ISU plans to put in new solar powered weather stations that will not only collect the same data as before but also monitor soil moisture conditions and soil temperatures at greater depths in the soil.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

"Thanks to generous gifts of a couple of crop producers in northwest Iowa, the first new weather station was installed on ISU's Northwest Iowa Research Farm at Calumet last October," notes Joel DeJong, an ISU field agronomist in northwest Iowa. "Additional sensors were placed below the surface of the crop ground at 12-inch, 24-inch and 50-inch depths, and the sensors are now monitoring soil moisture percentages and soil temperatures at those depths. We'll be able to learn a lot more about how water moves through the soil, thanks to these sensors."

Moisture sensors on the new stations are placed a foot, 2-feet and 4-feet deep in the soil next to the station. Readings are taken every 15 minutes and sent by cellular phone text messages to the network. The weather stations also measure rainfall, air and soil temperature, humidity, sunlight, wind speed and direction. A solar collector powers the units.

Another seven new weather stations will soon be installed on ISU research farms

While the first of the new units was placed on the ISU Northwest Research Farm last fall, another seven will be installed on research farms in other areas of the state as weather permits late this winter and this spring. Taylor says two farmers in northwest Iowa have paid for a station to be placed on their farms and a cooperative has ordered three stations. "The goal is, with our cooperators, to eventually have one new weather station installed in every county," he says.

It costs about $12,000 each for the equipment and installation of each new weather station. Campbell Scientific, a company based in Logan, Utah produced the original units and also the new ones.

"Twelve thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money, but these days when you consider the cost of farm equipment -- that's not out of anybody's reach, especially when you realize the payoff on the weather station if you use it," says Taylor. "People have to be trained to use it properly, so they know what the data means for their yield and what it means for their soil. The payoff will be just as great for one of these weather stations as it is for any piece of farm equipment."

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