The weather. We all talk about it. We all complain about it. And we all obsess over it.
Let’s be honest: we all check weather forecasts, and we check them pretty often. But here’s the problem: a weather forecast usually is only as precise as your city or town. That’s not too helpful when you’re a farmer, where you need to know precisely what’s happening on your potentially thousands of hectares of land, not what Tuesday’s forecast is for the other side of Dunedin.
But surprise, surprise: there’s some help on that front. Fonterra farmers are coming together to trial innovative technology that will allow them to take insights from the weather and bring greater precision to New Zealand dairy farms.
Fonterra is working with MetService and BloomSky – a smart weather camera station that delivers hyperlocal weather information in real-time to any laptop, tablet or smartphone. The partnership will result in more than 70 BloomSky weather stations being installed by farmers across the country in the coming months. MetService will use observations from the devices to provide forecasting and greater seasonal insights through data analytics to all users of Agrigate – the online dashboard developed by Fonterra Farm Source and LIC to give farmers the data they need to make faster and smarter decisions.
Fonterra farmer Kevin Argyle is trialling the solar-powered “SKY2” device as well as the wireless add-on called “Storm,” and has seen first-hand how the BloomSky system measures temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, UV and barometric pressure to give him a detailed view of his farm’s climate. “It really personalises it and enables us to make optimal on-farm decisions,” he says. “People often underestimate the variability within relatively small geographical areas. The other day we had 29 millimetres of rain and a few kilometres down the road they had five. That’s a big difference when you’re thinking about the best time to cultivate a paddock or move stock.”
And that’ not all he has to say about whether or not he thinks the weather plays an important role in his livelihood. “Weather is one of the more significant risks that impacts a farming operation so to have a real-time app that provides insights in terms of what has happened, what the current weather is and what it’s forecast to be for your property has huge potential value.”
BloomSky, which is an Internet of Things (IoT) start-up that became the most-funded weather project on Kickstarter in 2014, aims to make microclimate data more accessible to everyone. Its tech can work in with smart devices such as thermostats or irrigation systems to control them based on the weather outside.
“By working with MetService and BloomSky we’re able to offer our farmers the latest technology while also looking for ways to innovate further in the future,” says Tim Cutfield, Fonterra head of Agrigate. “We know that the weather stations will be popular because of the positive feedback we’ve already had from those trialling the system, and also because our farmers are amongst the best in the world when it comes to the adoption of technologies that enhance animal health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability, and efficient farm management.”