Jack Payne: We’re looking ahead to the prospect of delivering data so local that you can consider your nursery its own microclimate.

October 1, 2018

Twenty years ago, the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) launched on the premise that weather information from the airport isn’t enough for those in distant rural areas whose livelihoods depend on dew points and wind speed.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension has long recognized perhaps no one relies on this information more than growers do. So UF/IFAS Extension brought weather stations closer to the nurseries.

Today, Extension has 42 weather stations on public lands in rural areas to take the temperature of your region.

Then, Extension brought the weather stations right onto farms. In the past five years, Extension has installed 200 weather stations on private farms, ranches, and groves. That means we can give you readings on rainfall in your neighborhood.

FNGLA was a key player in the Ag Weather Task Force that championed the creation of the network. It succeeded in persuading first the state legislature and then the Federal Emergency Management Agency (via the Florida Division of Emergency Management) to provide the startup funds for FAWN.

Since then, the Florida agriculture industry has helped FAWN expand. Other partner groups include the Farm Bureau, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the state’s water management districts.

FNGLA members find FAWN especially useful in anticipation of freezes. The real-time information delivered by FAWN helps nursery and landscape professionals make decisions about freeze protection.

We’re looking ahead to the prospect of delivering data so local that you can consider your nursery its own microclimate. UF/IFAS forecasts someday your smartphone will essentially give you a weather map of the field you’re working.

The technological challenge is how to harness the growing mountain of data. FAWN measures dozens of weather indicators every 15 minutes 24/7. We’ll need to combine the right pieces of that data with information from other sources such as the National Weather Service to make FAWN even more useful.

Fortunately, this is just what UF/IFAS research and Extension do. We deliver discovery to you in usable form. Kati Migliaccio, the new chair of the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, uses FAWN data to drive the phone apps she developed to help producers of avocados, citrus, cotton, strawberries and turf decide when and how much to irrigate.

The information can be just as valuable after the fact. We had a spike in FAWN use after Hurricane Irma as producers sought to document for relief agencies just what hit their crops those fateful few days last September.

We’ve come around to hurricane season again, when everyone, not just growers, pays a little more attention to the weather. FAWN pays attention all year. Individual agents occasionally go on vacation, but Extension never does.

The future of FAWN includes other parts of UF, not just IFAS, gleaning useful grower data. For example, the Emerging Pathogens Institute may use FAWN data to determine how to limit your employees’ vulnerability to heat stress, a huge challenge in a climate like ours.

Extension brings UF to you. Usually it’s IFAS that has your solutions, but Extension finds what you need among UF’s 16 colleges and thousands of faculty members.

The spread of UF/IFAS FAWN stations means you can carry us around with you in your hip pocket. Extension meets you where you are. If you’re like most people, this is increasingly on your smartphone. It’s part of our 24/7 commitment to production agriculture. •

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