6 December 1996

Instant field data on tap

A NEW automatic weather station can collect and transfer data from field to farm office, helping farmers make better use of pesticides and irrigation water to optimise crop yield and quality.

The Adcon Advantage Telemetry system, from Austria, is already being used by German wheat growers to rationalise fungicide use. Now it is being developed for the UK by Cambridgeshire-based David Martin Associates.

"Until now it has only been possible to record what has happened in crops with a data logger linked to sensors." says David Martin.

"Visits have to be made to the field to download the data to a computer. This is time consuming and the information can be out of date by the time it reaches the office."

The new unit comprises a 3.5m (11.5ft) tall aluminium mast with a rechargeable battery pack connected to a solar panel. This powers an electronic micro-processor, a data storage chip, and a radio transmitter/receiver.

Electronics in the control box "read" the sensors once a minute and every 15min the weather station sends data back to the base station.

Range is 20km (12.5 miles) and each unit can act as a relay station to pass messages from other weather stations down the line.

The first 12 Adcon units were set up with Austrian government funding in 1993 in vineyards covering 2500ha (6000 acres) north of Vienna. The aim was to improve the targeting of costly chemical pesticides and reduce usage.

That project was so successful that many more were installed by growers the following year. Now several thousand units are working in vineyards, orchards and on arable farms across mainland Europe, and overseas.

"They will soon be at work in this country where they will be used to forecast potato blight conditions, and target chemicals to control disease in sugar beet, cereals, vegetables, and fruit," Mr Martin says.

"The units provide the data needed for software models which are being developed by universities and research stations."

The software package with the unit also includes an irrigation programme for combining weather information with soil moisture to provide accurate irrigation forecasting. The system can also provide an instant frost warning via a telephone or pager to alert farmers so action can be taken.

Each Adcon Advantage unit is designed to provide representative weather data spanning 100ha (250 acres). A three-unit package with sensors to measure temperature, humidity, leaf surface wetness, and rainfall, with all the necessary software, costs £9000.

In-field data, collected by the Adcon Advantage weather station, is returned to the office computer by radio link.


WEATHER WATCH


&#8226 Up to 17 sensors for soil temperature, moisture and pH, wind speed and direction, rainfall, sunlight, humidity and leaf surface wetness.

&#8226 3.5m (11.5ft) aluminium mast.

&#8226 Solar powered.

&#8226 Data processed, stored, then sent to farm by radio signal.

&#8226 Three-unit kit costs £9000.