Sub-Field Atmospheric Monitoring: Implications for Modern Agriculture

Mitchell Pettit

Mitchell’s background includes data collection and dissemination to the public as well as data processing and analysis. He is responsible for making spatial data accessible to Advanced Agrilytics' employees and clients

As innovations in technology, agriculture, and science continue to progress, our need and ability to analyze sub-field atmospheric conditions is going to become increasingly important. If we want to maximize operations at the field gate, we need to better understand the various sub-field interactions that occur throughout the growing season. What micro-environments develop across a field when it comes to factors like dew point or humidity? How do those affect crop development and progression? Does that interaction change as the plant matures? We can better assess the answers to these questions, and hopefully more, by bettering our ability to gather and analyze atmospheric data on a local scale. 

Why It Matters

We know that the atmospheric conditions which a plant encounters during the growing season impact its health and growth, but we’re only now developing the ability to understand to what degree. We know factors such as temperature and the availability of moisture not only impact the yield potential of a crop, but they can also impact the onset and progression of disease. While we do not have the ability to control the atmospheric conditions that occur, we do have the ability to prepare for and better manage disease at the sub field level if we understand what conditions promote its development.  

But it isn’t just disease prevention that makes the idea of monitoring sub-field atmospheric conditions important. This data would also provide growers with the ability to make more educated choices about their multi-hybrid and variable-rate seeding strategies, increasing yield on multiple fronts. 

How We Learn

The grid by which we observe atmospheric variables such as temperature and precipitation has decreased in size in recent decades, but the resolution is still far too coarse to be of more than basic use to growers. One such effort is that of The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), which was launched in the late 90’s in partnership with the National Weather Service. The CoCoRaHS network, combined with local Cooperative Observing Network (COOP) sites, has enabled us to look at atmospheric observations at an increasingly finer scale. Data obtained from Dual-Polarization Radar is also increasing in importance and popularity as a tool to better understand precipitation and precipitation intensity on a smaller scale.

However, even with these technologies, the finest resolutions we can obtain are often 1-3 kilometers. Many of the fields managed by farmers today are much smaller than that in area. This makes the aim of monitoring atmospheric conditions to improve agricultural operations somewhat difficult. Often we are left with overarching values (temperature, dew point, precipitation, etc.) that are supposed to be representative of all points within that field. But as with all our other analysis, the team at Advanced Agrilytics isn’t satisfied with those broad strokes. This data may provide a snapshot of the conditions, but they don’t accurately describe the variability we would expect to be present across any given field. 

Working Toward a Precise Future

The desire to understand these fine scale atmospheric variations will continue to intensify in the agricultural realm as we progress into the future. We already know some information about how particular atmospheric conditions affect crop performance, but more knowledge will ultimately provide us and the grower with more power in the decision making process. As the demand for growers to maximize yield and minimize the use of unnecessary resources continues to increase, so too will our need and desire to safeguard the health and vitality of a crop from planting to harvest. Sub field atmospheric monitoring is just one of the many tools that can be used to ensure these outcomes.

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