Enviro-weather delivers weather-driven production management tools to Michigan vegetable growers

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

MSU’s Enviro-weather web site came online in July of 2006 to provide a one stop site for weather-based decision making information to Michigan growers. Since that time, fruit, potato, turfgrass, field crop, forestry and Christmas tree producers, and others have been accessing Enviro-weather to get local radar and forecasts, current weather conditions as well as plant disease, insect, weed, and crop development models. And now, thanks to a dedicated self-identified workgroup, Enviro-weather has recently launched its vegetable production page.

Enviro-weather is designed to be a dependable, sustainable weather-based system for pest, natural resource and production management decision-making. Users access the system through a web site: www.enviroweather.msu.edu. Information at the web site integrates near-real-time weather data from the Michigan Automated Weather Network (MAWN) and other weather systems with modeling tools and information resources such as the MSU IPM Resources web site.

Enviro-weather is a dynamic weather information system

The backbone of the system is the Michigan Automated Weather Network (MAWN) with about 50 stations located throughout Michigan that supplies high-quality weather data for Enviro-weather users. MAWN stations are designed with specialized sensors required for diverse applications in agriculture and natural resources. For example, soil moisture, solar radiation, and leaf wetness are recorded, as well as more standard temperature, relative humidity, rainfall and wind speed.  At the station, data from each sensor is logged into the storage device every five minutes. Every hour the recorded data is transferred via cell phone technology to the central computer located on the MSU campus in East Lansing, making the information available in near-real-time. Enviro-weather utilizes this current information to develop useful reports that clearly illustrate weather observation relevant to specific crops and commodities. For example, users can access an hourly summary of overnight temperatures with periods of freezing temperatures highlighted in red.  In addition, Enviro-weather feeds these data into pest, plant and resource models that can assist the grower in making decisions on harvest and planting dates, irrigation, weed, insect and plant disease management.

The heart of the system is the science-based models that provide decision support to Enviro-weather users. Insect life stages, plant maturity and crop disease risk are among the many factors linked to hourly, daily and seasonal weather patterns. Models that quantify these links have been and are currently being developed by researchers at MSU and other universities and research facilities.  Models and reports suggested and evaluated by workgroup members are programmed into the website, linking to hourly or daily weather data, making results available on demand at the site.

The brain of the system is the IPM Resources website (www.ipm.msu.edu). This site contains a wealth of agricultural information with over 2,500 individual web pages and averages over 50,000 hits per week. Enviro-weather is integrated with quick links to the IPM Resources web site for background information on pests and for quick access to other resources like the Crop Advisory Team (CAT) Alerts. Specific pest information is linked to relevant models. For example, a fruit grower using the predictive model for plum curculio in tart cherries at Enviro-weather will find a link to information developed by MSU Extension educators and specialists about the pest.  

The guts of the system are the self-identified workgroups who organize to provide direction on tailoring the information system to meet industry needs. These workgroups typically include web site users such as farmers, resource managers and consultants along with MSU specialists and Extension educators. They are essential in identifying needs and priorities such as: What relevant weather-driven models/information are available for integration into the system? Which educational, extension and research resources should be linked to the system? What supplemental external resources for research, partnerships, funding are needed? Are additional weather stations needed and if so, how will they be supported?

Vegetable workgroup results

The workgroup met in April to identify weather-driven products and information that are available and applicable to the needs of Michigan vegetable producers. Products that may have value but need further development or validation for use in Michigan were also identified for future research and planning. Work group members include, MSUE Central region ICM Extension Educator Jim Breinling, MSU Vegetable Research and Extension Entomologist Beth Bishop, Macomb County MSUE Educator Hannah Stevens, Oceana County Extension Director Norm Myers and Tracy Aichele and Mark Trent with Enviro-weather.

As a result of the input from the workgroup, products now available on the Enviro-weather vegetable production page include:  Links to National Weather Service radar and forecasts;  a summary of current conditions that incorporate rainfall, growing degree days and wind speed into one easy to read table; a soil conditions report that includes temperature and moisture;  and an overnight temperature report that not only gives an hour by hour breakdown of last night’s temperatures, but also provides a forecast for tonight’s low temperature and dew point temperatures. Irrigation resources include a potential evapotranspiration report and an interactive irrigation scheduler. Under pest models and predictions you will find links to MSU DSV page for TomCast, Northern Illinois University’s Insect Migration Risk Forecast, North Carolina State University’s North American Plant Disease Forecast Center for Cucurbit Downy Mildew, Penn State’s PestWatch site that gives trap catches for corn earworm at many locations across the United States and the North Central Regional Soybean Aphid Suction Trap Network. Products in development include a variety of insect management models and programming the irrigation scheduler for more vegetable crops. Visit www.enviroweather.msu.edu to find our more.

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