AMES, Iowa — 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 drought conditions continuing across Iowa, ISU Extension agronomist Elwynn Taylor said the stations offer a risk management tool for crop producers.
“The updated stations provide information on the soil moisture resource and the actual crop water consumption,” Taylor said. “Farmers will be able to know the yield limits being placed on crop yield by water stress as the season progresses.”
The new stations replace ones that have been monitoring weather data at the farms for more than 30 years. Taylor said 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 (http://mesonet.agron.iastate.edu/) weather web site.
Moisture sensors are placed a foot, two feet and four 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.
Taylor said the first of the new units was placed next to the previous model at the Northwest Research and Demonstration Farm near Sutherland. Another seven will be installed on research farms as weather permits. He said two farmers have paid for a station to be placed on their farms and a cooperative has ordered three stations.
“The goal is, with cooperators, to have one in every county,” he said.
It costs about $12,000 each for the equipment and installation. Campbell Scientific of Logan, Utah, produced the original units and 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 it if you use it,” he said. “People have to be trained to use it, so they know what it means for their yield and what it means for their soil. The payoff will be just as great for any piece of farm equipment.”