PART OF AN ENTIRE AGTECH MOVEMENT HELPING FARMERS MAKE THE BEST DECISIONS
Albertans are no strangers to checking the weather apps on their mobile devices only to find when they step outside the weather is completely different. In the world of farming, getting the wrong information can have impacts that ripple outwards. From the farmer’s decision-making process to the way they manage their crops throughout the season, having the most precise, up-to-date information means better resource management and environmental sustainability all around.
“As some of the most important stewards of land, farmers are tasked with producing more food while preserving water resources, preventing soil erosion, and reducing crop inputs,” says Susan Cooley-Pottier, senior product manager at TELUS Agriculture. “They need tools to gain these efficiencies and protect the environment and agtech is there to help.”
TELUS Agriculture is working in many ways to support farmers in acquiring the most accurate information while also making it easy for them to access it within their busy days. One of the latest ways is through their Weather Stations project.
“We know through climate change how much weather trends have shifted. For farmers, managing weather-related risk can be a big challenge,” says Cooley-Pottier. “We know that by having some basic apps, including widgets and software, many get their weather data through public sources. If this public source is very close to the farmer, that can be great. But if they’re far away, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away, we know it’s not very accurate. This is one tool that’s part of a larger overall practice for stronger decision making.”
Describing this tool, Cooley-Pottier says, “The TELUS Agriculture Weather Stations project is pretty much exactly as it sounds. It’s literally a weather station, using actual meteorological equipment, all designed for agriculture. It’s about the size of a toaster and sits on a nine-foot-high post. It can be placed beside the farmer’s field or deeper within the actual crop.”
Once the hardware is installed, the system uses a cellular network connection to gather up all the data from the station, sending it to the cloud where it’s updated into the program’s software. “Farmers simply subscribe to this package as people would a streaming service,” explains Cooley-Pottier. “They can access this on their desktop computer and through mobile applications for android or IOS devices.”
As quickly as we might set up internet services in a new home, farmers can begin using the program to make well informed decisions—big and small—using all the data they’re receiving through the weather stations system.
“They can save on fuel costs, as well as crop protection applications, by avoiding unnecessary trips to the field or attempts to put an application down when they’re about to get rained out and waste the product,” says Cooley-Pottier. “For those farmers who have crops under irrigation, knowing the soil moisture can help them make better decisions on when they turn on an irrigation pivot, preserving precious water resources.”
Like most things in the world of agriculture, it’s all about collaboration as TELUS Agriculture begins their journey into this space. “We’re excited to help farmers understand the value of this project. We want them to get the most out of it, and at TELUS Agriculture, we’re lucky to have some expert boots on the ground,” says Cooley-Pottier. “Having close connections with our farming clients is invaluable.”
This includes working in partnership with their farming clients to understand what they’re seeing in the field and through the weather station system, as well as simplifying the farmer’s workday. “For example, they can preprogram alerts into the software, such as if the temperature drops below a certain point; it can pre-alert them to frost. The program will send them an email or text message right when that happens,” says Cooley-Pottier.
Because frost events greatly reduce the efficiency of crop protection products, when a farmer knows their field experienced frost, they can wait a couple of days to apply them. “They will have saved themselves a repeat application, which means a savings on fuel, water, and crop [protection products],” says Cooley Pottier.
People today might be surprised by just how heavily farmers have already used technology for decades. “The interior cabs of their tractors going out to seed today look like airplane cockpits. They’re covered in tablets monitoring and measuring all kinds of things for their equipment,” says Cooley-Pottier. “As their practices continue to grow more sophisticated, they require a lot of technology. It might be surprising to some how much several farmers love technology, and they want more.”
She adds that while the weather station is just one part of an entire agtech movement, it can be an important piece of data as farmers look at their entire farm. This means a demand for young minds to contribute. “The opportunities in agtech will only continue to grow as we address future needs for sustainability and feeding a global population that’s growing every day.”
For more information on agriculture sustainability explore our Nourishing Minds publications here.