With support from individuals and agricultural commodity groups, particularly tree fruit and grapes, the Washington State legislature approved funding in March 2006 to Washington State University to support the annual operation of a statewide public agricultural weather network, now called AgWeatherNet. This was great news following very good news in 2005 that the legislature approved funding to the WSU Center for Precision Agricultural Systems for new building and expansion of the current weather stations from 60 to more than 120 stations statewide. These legislative actions provide the first substantive public support for an agricultural weather network in Washington State and are greatly appreciated by WSU and by those who benefit from a strong agricultural weather network in Washington State and beyond.
So what is AgWeatherNet, and what exactly do these funds provide for WSU and Washington agriculture?
First, a brief history of the agricultural weather network in Washington State. WSU, through the efforts of Dr. Thomas Ley and others, began the Public Agricultural Weather System, or PAWS, in late 1980. Initially, PAWS was established to support irrigation scheduling as part of an energy conservation program.
Over time, PAWS grew to about 60 weather stations, as individuals and organizations sponsored the cost of adding a station. Most of the PAWS stations were located in the irrigated cropland areas of eastern Washington, with a few stations located at WSU facilities in western Washington.
A PAWS weather station measured air temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, leaf wetness, soil temperature, and soil moisture, and reported data every 15 minutes through various computers and a radio network to a central location at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, Washington. PAWS provided weather data and information products to growers and their service providers for use in many farm management tasks including irrigation scheduling, frost protection, and integrated pest management. The PAWS network has been available on the Internet since 1997.
Shift in responsibility
In 2001, the Center for Precision Agricultural Systems assumed responsibilities for PAWS, and began efforts to improve the hardware and software technologies used to operate the network. The upgraded and expanded agricultural weather system is now called AgWeatherNet.
The network expansion for AgWeatherNet is under way. Selection of new locations within agricultural areas in the state is progressing but not yet complete. As shown in the station map, proposed new stations are being located in areas not served by the former PAWS network, including agricultural areas in western Washington and the dryland crop production regions of eastern Washington, and in areas representing gaps in the network within the irrigated cropland areas of eastern Washington.
The plan is to install the majority of the new weather stations by the end of June 2006 as time and resources allow. All new stations will be equipped with a new data logger/radio developed by the Center for Precision Agricultural Systems for the expansion that will enhance the performance of the weather network and will include all the weather sensors listed above for the former PAWS stations. All existing former PAWS stations will also be upgraded with the new equipment.
Each year, the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center experiences periodic outages of power and Internet service that disrupt the delivery of weather data. To improve reliability of data delivery, the computer servers for AgWeatherNet are being moved to the WSU Pullman campus where back-up systems are in place that limit the number and duration of outages. The AgWeatherNet system will be hosted by the WSU College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences Information Department lead by Tony Wright. Tony’s staff is currently programming a new version of the AgWeatherNet Web site that will be available soon at www.agweathernet.wsu.edu.
With the new funding for the AgWeatherNet operation, the AgWeatherNet Web site will expand over time to include more weather-related features as well as relevant links and information on a range of topics relevant to production agriculture and rural communities.
A new building for the Center for Precision Agricultural Systems has passed the design phase, and plans are under way to begin construction in late summer. The building will be built at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center Station in Prosser, and is scheduled for completion in 2007. Facilities for operations and staff offices for AgWeatherNet are proposed in the building that will also house the Center for Precision Agricultural Systems staff and operations.
The 2006 WSU AgWeatherNet Initiative approved by the state legislature provides annual funding to support a permanent staff solely dedicated to AgWeatherNet. The funding provides salary for a faculty position at WSU in Prosser in agro-meteorology, a new position for WSU but common at other land- grant institutions. This person will be responsible for implementing climate/weather-related decision aids on AgWeatherNet, for conducting workshops and focus groups to determine priorities for decision aids and information products, for informing clientele of the products, and for training users. This person will also be expected to implement an applied research and extension program on the impact of weather and climate variability on agricultural and natural resources with an emphasis on the development and implementation of decision aids to be used by extension agents, farmers, and natural resource managers.
The funding also supports staff for AgWeatherNet that will include an AgWeatherNet manager, an applications system analyst/developer, two technical coordinators, and part-time employees. This staff will be responsible to operate, maintain, continually improve, and expand AgWeatherNet as needed and assist users in accessing and utilizing AgWeatherNet. It will take time to hire this new staff, and there will be a transition period as they assume their responsibilities for AgWeatherNet. The Center for Precision Agricultural Systems staff will be assisting in the employee hires and in their training during the transition period.
The new AgWeatherNet Web site is open to the public and can be accessed via the Internet at www.agweathernet. wsu.edu. You will need to register before you can use the site.