Ag weather stations to benefit barley farmers
By John O’Connell
GRACE, Idaho — Anheuser-Busch InBev has purchased six new agricultural meteorological stations, located throughout Eastern Idaho barley country, providing growers site-specific, real-time data on weather, evapotranspiration and crop water use to aid in irrigation decisions.
The new stations, in Grace, Osgood, Rigby, Ririe, Shelley and Terreton, are part of the AgriMet program, a partnership between the Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration that now operates about 90 weather stations around the Pacific Northwest.
AgriMet started in 1983 with stations in Lind, Wash., Hermiston, Ore., and Malta, Idaho. AgriMet program coordinator Jama Hamel said each new station costs $8,000 to install and about $1,600 per year to operate.
Anheuser-Busch sent a letter to growers in the region informing them the stations are part of a commitment the company made last year to “improve water management in 100 percent of our key barley growing regions in partnership with local stakeholders.”
Hamel said AgriMet is now seeking growers near the stations who will volunteer to report when their crops emerge and reach certain developmental stages to help with AgriMet analysis. Data from AgriMet sites is available online at www.usbr.gov/pn/agrimet. Hamel said Washington State University has developed an Android phone app, and is working on an iPhone version, to make it easier for farmers to compute field-specific AgriMet data.
Hamel said AgriMet has been widely utilized by growers, cities, corporate entities and electric utilities, and the web page gets roughly 150,000 “hits” per month. She said the stations also measure wind speed and direction, which is useful for aerial chemical applicators.
In addition to the new Anheuser-Busch stations, the BOR’s office in Provo, Utah, is installing new southeast Idaho stations in Preston and Montpelier, and six new stations are scheduled to be installed this season in Northern Idaho and northeastern Washington. Hamel has prioritized locating new sites in public areas to promote AgriMet, such as Silverwood Theme Park in Athol, Idaho, where wastewater is applied to crops.
Anheuser-Busch funding will also support a three-year demonstration project by University of Idaho Extension irrigation specialist Howard Neibling, who will compare water and input use, yield and crop quality on abutting fields, some utilizing AgriMet data and some irrigating under standard practices.
“I think the stations will really provide information that hasn’t been there before for a good sized area,” Neibling said.
The demonstration project, which will be focused on malt barley, will also seek to educate growers about WSU’s AgriMet field calculator and smart phone apps.
Grace farmers Marc Gibbs and Mark Mathews will participate in Neibling’s demonstration. Gibbs said growers in his area previously relied on weather data from Aberdeen, Idaho, which is more than a 90-minute drive from his community.
“Having good data locally should help us increase our production and better utilize the precious resource we have of limited water supplies,” Gibbs said.
The Grace station was built on Mathews’ farm.
“It’s working successfully in other parts of the Northwest,” Mathews said. “Any data we could get to help us in those decisions would be good.”