Weather remains the dominant factor affecting crop performance and profitability, but most farmers still lack access to accurate real-time data. A progressive Suffolk farm is trialling the UK’s fastest growing agricultural weather station network service, to assess its benefits to the operation. David Williams reports.
An internet search will reveal hundreds of makes and types of weather station available, but deciding which best suits a farm’s needs is something of a lottery. Founded in 2016, Sencrop makes the decision easier for potential buyers. The French company provides its services to a rapidly growing network of more than 15,000 subscribers across Europe. It opened its UK division near Cambridge last year to provide dedicated sales and service support, and has quickly gained customers including farmers, agronomists and multi-national crop science companies.
The concept is simple – the farmer buys the weather station from the company, sets it up in a suitable location, and pays an annual subscription. In return, users can access accurate, real-time weather information for their farm from anywhere, just by logging in to their account from a smartphone, tablet or desktop. Because data is sent from each weather station to Sencrop, then accessed by users through the connected cloud-based network, additional features are also available. For all three levels of service package, users can view the approximate locations of every Sencrop connected weather station in Europe and select any two from which they can also receive weather data. All station information is anonymised so that only users authorised by each station’s owner know its precise location. Selecting additional weather stations close to the user’s own location can provide early warnings of incoming weather such as rain showers during drilling or harvest, making it easier to plan operations.
Ideal test farm
With the number of Sencrop service users increasing rapidly, Farmers Guide arranged for a large Suffolk farm to borrow three of the company’s weather stations with data access through the Pro service package, and will be providing progress reports throughout this year. Forrest Farms is based near Stowmarket in mid-Suffolk and farms approximately 1,800ha of arable crops including cereals and sugar beet. The land is a mix of owned and contract-farmed and in three main blocks with up to 12 miles between work areas. The farm is well run with excellent crop storage facilities and the machinery is modern and well maintained. But apart from a basic rain gauge and a hand-held anemometer used to check wind speeds when spraying, no weather monitoring equipment is owned.
Sencrop supplied two Raincrop weather stations and a Windcrop anemometer. One Raincrop was installed at the main Stowmarket base, and the second Raincrop and the Windcrop were installed on contract-farmed land approximately 10 miles away.
“I have often thought that a weather station would be useful but never got around to researching what I need and what is available,” explained farmer James Forrest. “We have access to so much other information including yield maps and soil sampling data, and weather records are another significant piece of the jigsaw. Having the opportunity to try the Sencrop system will be useful, and I am hopeful that advantages will include easier planning of field work, while accurate weather records will help us determine reasons for crops having performed well, or not. It will be interesting to see if there is any variation in the growing conditions between the two sites, and having records of wind strength and direction will be reassuring in case activities such as spray applications are ever questioned.”
The two Raincrop stations and the Windcrop wind monitor are all standalone units with dedicated data transmitters. A simple guide makes it easy to identify suitable locations for installation, and because data transmission is by Sigfox, there is no need for a 3G or 4G mobile signal. The station kits arrive by carrier with easy-to-follow positioning and setup instructions. Using the supplied tripods for mounting, preparing each unit took only 15 minutes. Linking each device to the account and app was easy using individual QR codes, and within a few minutes of switching them on, data was available on the screen.
Each weather station automatically records its own location which is then displayed on the map. Once the master user has created an account and added each weather station, additional users can be added with similar access but reduced authority to modify settings. “I’m very impressed with how easy it all is to use,” commented farm foreman Robert Hale. “For me, the biggest benefit will be having access to weather information from the remote site at any time just by looking at my phone. When there is field work to do, my first job each morning is often to drive 10 miles to the other farm to check whether conditions are suitable. Now I can check whether rain has fallen there in just a few seconds before I leave my house, and it will save time and a lot of miles driving. I think it will make a big difference.”
Farmers Guide will visit the farm through the season to find out how the Sencrop weather stations are performing and to see whether they provide the expected benefits. Weather information from the stations will also be featured on the Farmers Guide website and social media channels.
Opportunity to try
Starting this month, potential users of Sencrop’s service can register for a free 14-day trial, allowing access to data from two weather stations through the Sencrop app. Users can select any two stations from Sencrop’s on-line map, and also set alerts based on data from the selected stations as well as viewing historical weather data.