By Tom Burfield

Modern technology has vastly simplified the tasks of monitoring weather conditions and collecting information that can help you decide when to apply fungicides and take other steps to protect your crops.

Now, instead of venturing out to a remote area of your field to check a thermometer, rain gauge or wind-monitoring device, you simply make a few mouse clicks on your computer or push a few buttons on your smart phone or hand-held personal digital assistant.

Growers in the New York area can visit the Network for Environment and Weather Application website——to instantly access information, such as temperature,leaf wetness, precipitation, relative humidity, solar radiation, wind speed and wind direction, says Art DeGaetano, professor of earth and atmosphere science and director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. They also can find information on dozens of pests and diseases.

The center serves as a repository for weather observations from individual growers, airports and other stations that collect data.

Expanded site

The site, which recently expanded to include Massachusetts and Vermont, is geared toward apple, grape, onion and potato growers, says Juliet Carroll, fruit integrated pest management coordinator and NEWA project leader.

Plant pathologists who study diseases in plants and entomologists who study insects that attack plants and cause crop loss have been developing these types of phenology models, she says. And weather stations with rain gauges and thermometers have become the rule.

The new websites allow growers not only to access the information from a computer or smart phone, but they also provide historic records growers can refer to without having to personally input data, she says.

Once growers access that data, they can make informed decisions about where and when to apply pesticides or take other actions, DeGaetano says.

The advantage of the site, he explains, is that it simplifies raw data accumulated by scientists and researchers whose motivation is to publish the information in scientific literature.

“Typically, these models aren’t very user friendly in their research form,” DeGaetano says. “We’ve taken the model and linked them into a very user-friendly format.”

Timing is everything

The NEWA site can help growers time their pesticide applications more efficiently, minimizing pesticide use, Carroll says. The data can help growers determine whether insects—such as Oriental fruit moth and codling moth—are going through a period of their lifecycles when they might be ready to lay eggs, and it can let growers know that it’s time to spray insecticide.

If growers wait until the larvae already have hatched and chewed their way into the fruit, it’s too late to prevent infestation, she says.

Apple grower Donald “Tre” Green, who until recently owned Chazy Orchards in Chazy, N.Y., and who now serves as a consultant there, checks the website on his computer to determine when insects are going to have flushes so that he can time his sprays.

The information is tabulated and advises users when they should be watching for various pests, he says.

Without the site, Green says, “You would have to keep track of that yourself as best you can.”

Gary Mahany, an owner of Mahany Farms in Arkport, N.Y., bookmarks sites on his laptop computer that provide information from NEWA and other stations to help him protect his 550 acres of potatoes from late blight. Mahany invested about $2,200 in a weather station where his potatoes are grown that transmits information to the Cornell site so anyone can access it. The $2,200 was a reasonable investment, he says, considering that one spray can cost twice that.

Cornell also sends a text message to his cell phone if the threat of late blight reaches a certain severity level, he says. regional system

Eventually, Harvey Reissig, director of the pest management education program for Cornell, says he would like to see “if we can develop a system that can be utilized in any of the states throughout the Eastern and Central humid apple production region.”

He would like to integrate the work Carroll and others at Cornell are doing into a real-time apple integrated pest management website to help growers make decisions on sampling, monitoring and selection of pesticides.

That goal may soon become a reality. Cornell already has a Specialty Crops Research Initiative planning grant to help support the process.

“We hope to develop an SCRI proposal to develop this web-based IPM system in humid apple-growing regions,” he says. “It will be sort of a national system for those types of regions.” He hopes to receive a grant shortly and have a system in place that can be used by smart phones or handheld devices within three to five years.

Orchard Radar

Glen Koehler, associate scientist for integrated pest management at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, runs a couple of Orchard Radar sites for Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts that provide in-season weather data similar to Cornell’s Network for Environment and Weather Application.

The system, which was established in 1997, currently applies only to apples, “but the concept can certainly be expanded to other crops,” he says.

“Besides the scouting program, it’s one of the core features of our [integrated pest management] program in Maine,” Koehler says.

The nice thing about it is that it’s a very adaptable, off-the-shelf system, he says. “This all runs on Excel,” Koehler says, “so it’s compatible with humans.”

Wider access

At first, access to these websites was either via computer or static PDAs, where users would use web clipping software to sync their devices with a computer website and download pertinent data, says Doug Pfeiffer, professor of entomology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Smart phones and devices with wireless Internet connections have pretty much replaced static PDAs, which Pfeiffer describes as basically “just organizers.” Pfeiffer has created streamlined versions of the Virginia Tech fruit website that include Extension research and education about apples, peaches, pears, grapes and small fruit designed specifically for PDAs.

The sites have fewer graphics and are more compatible with wireless devices.

Programs are available, such as Pendragon Forms, that enable growers to input trapping data and other information into their mobile devices in the field and syncs automatically with their computer, he says.

Documents to Go and Quick Office are other software programs developed for mobile devices.