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Ag Weather Goes Private: the Northeast Weather Association

photo of weather station
Workers install an electronic weather instrument in a New York vineyard. Photo: IPM Program files.

 

Two years ago the agriculture industry realized that governmental support for agricultural weather services was waning. People started looking for private avenues, and in 1996 the Northeast Weather Association was born.

A nonprofit membership organization called the Northeast Weather Association (NEWA) came into being in 1996 thanks to the efforts of an interested group of agricultural producers, IPM extension educators, and agribusiness organizations.

The purposes of NEWA are twofold: to disseminate weather data, pest forecasts, and weather forecasts to its members; and to act as a forum for the resolution of agricultural weather concerns of its members, who include growers, food processors, private consultants, fieldmen, and extension personnel.

Between 50 and 60 growers or organizations had purchased automated, in-field weather instruments in the state of New York as of 1996. These instruments measure temperature, relative humidity, leaf wetness, and precipitation. Why couldn't the owners get their own data from these instruments? Why form an association? Because it is difficult for individuals to acquire the expertise to summarize the data and the software needed to run pest forecast models. Furthermore, weather forecasts cannot be obtained from weather instruments, and they are a critical element in sound crop and pest management.

Some of the services NEWA offers were formerly made available by the federal government, with no charge to growers. Funding cuts put an end to them in 1995.

A USDA Agricultural Telecommunications grant awarded to the IPM Program makes possible a network of individual weather instruments, linked by three computers that act as "bulletin boards." The bulletin boards, located in Central, Western, and Eastern New York, have sophisticated software that can summarize daily weather data gathered from the network of instruments and can run pest forecast models for NEWA members.

Agricultural weather forecasts for six New York growing regions, purchased by NEWA from Weather Track, Inc., a private forecasting service in Rochester, New York, are also posted on these bulletin boards at 7 a.m. each day. These forecasts, as well as the pest forecasts and weather instrument data, were provided from early April until the end of October 1996.

One advantage of this new weather association besides the obvious one that it provides weather information needed by New York's farmers is that it creates a link between the agriculture industry and the research and extension base at Cornell University. Research linking weather information to pest and crop developments is under way in several of the Cornell crop protection departments.

What do NEWA members get for their subscriptions? Some receive daily facsimiles containing data on predicted hours of precipitation, temperatures, and relative humidity for the day. Members with home computers can make local phone calls daily to one of the bulletin boards and download information that translates the weather information into suggested management strategies. Membership fees cover the expenses of the Weather Track forecasts, the telephone lines necessary to create the network, and services to maintain the weather instruments, keep the software updated, and train growers to use the weather data on their own computers.

In 1996 subscribers received NEWA data for apples, onions, grapes, and potatoes. In 1997 NEWA organizers hope to add information pertinent to field crops, ornamentals, and some additional vegetable crops. They also hope to double the current NEWA membership of forty-three subscribers.