How Modern Technology Helps Farmers Weather the Weather

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flooded corn

Photo: Illinois Farm Bureau

The impromptu game that our kids started in the backseat resembled a contest of my childhood. On evening drives in December, my brother and I would count the number of rural homes with Christmas lights on our sides of the car.

Fast forward 25 to 30 years, and change the season to prime corn-planting time. My kids competitively counted puddles in the fields we passed. Big puddles. The type of ponded areas that attract geese in places that farmers had just planted or needed to plant.

Self-employment generally brings the perk of “being your own boss.” But on the farm, Mother Nature occasionally reminds us she remains in charge. Too much rain. Not enough. Crop-toppling wind events ahead of harvest. A pop-up storm on fresh-cut hay. Then, finally sun and a breeze to dry wet soils, just in time for a shower to again delay planting, spraying or harvest.

After generations on the farm, we still can’t control the weather, but a mix of modern technology improves management. We remain loyal to a reliable rain gauge and perform physical field checks after a weather event. To those lengthy traditions, we add smartphones to keep us posted on changing weather forecasts. As a result, we can plan field operations with the most current weather information available. It also means the guys can view satellite radar images from the field, rather than call us farm women for our rainfall predictions from the home or office computer.

Today’s digital technology platforms for agricultural use provide historical, real-time and forecasted weather specific to each field. This proves especially beneficial to monitor conditions within fields miles apart. In fact, one summer this weather tool indicated hail had hit one of our soybean fields. “By golly, it was right,” as Grandpa would say. We checked, and Mother Nature did hail in an isolated area that included our soybean field. We filed a claim, and our hail insurance policy paid.

Even with today’s technology, we still wonder what we could have done differently ahead of (or behind) an uncontrollable weather woe. I still remember the agriculture pesticide commercial when a farmer jumps in his time machine to spray before the weather turned. If only. Rather than time machines, we have more efficient machinery than ever before. Grid tiling with precision instruments improves field drainage in wet fields. And modern-day crop varieties tolerate temperature and moisture fluctuations better than in the past.

Farmers seem to remember the last year of a similar weather pattern like a sports statistic. At its start, this spring brought back willies about the cold, wet weather of 2009. And we don’t want to play that game again this year.

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