GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Citrus grower James Shinn remembers days when he and his workers would rush out as early as 5 p.m. to turn water pumps on to irrigate his crops. “We had no idea when the temperature would drop, so we had to get out there early and get the water going.”
Now, researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are helping state growers save millions of dollars via a tool to gauge weather in agricultural areas.
The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN), was started in 1998 to provide weather decision-making data in agricultural regions, said Rick Lusher, director of FAWN. While all National Weather Service tools are located at airports, FAWN stations are located in agricultural areas, he said.
“We estimate that if farmers use FAWN tools to determine when to irrigate their crops, they can save millions of dollars and millions of gallons of water,” Lusher said.
For example, FAWN has a suite of cold protection tools that farmers can use. “Growers can get an idea of what temperatures will be, and if it will get down to critical numbers,” Lusher explained. “They can use that information to track the forecasts, which are revised every three hours, to decide if they will turn the water on.”
According to Lusher, growers can use FAWN data to determine the level of evaporation and whether there will be further cooling of crops. “This is more helpful to farmers because they can determine when they can turn irrigation off to not risk further damage if the plant surface is wet and the temperature is going to drop even more,” he said.
Lusher estimates that if growers use cold protection data from FAWN, they can save two hours of irrigation. Shinn said he saves even more by now turning his water pumps at about 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. “You can’t be everywhere at once, but FAWN gives us a lead on how to better manage our crops,” said Shinn, who has citrus and peach groves in Lake Alfred and Vero Beach. “FAWN gives us real life data on different sites throughout the state. I can’t tell you how beneficial this has been to our industry.”
By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, email@example.com
Sources: Rick Lusher, 352-846-3219, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cutline: Rick Lusher, standing, and George Braun, field site supervisor for FAWN, install a temperature sensor at a monitoring station located at UF’s Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, Fla. UF/IFAS File Photo.