Coagmet Weather Network Reduces Impact of Drought, Helps Ensure Best from State’s $15 Billion Agricultural Industry

Weather conditions affect nearly every aspect of Colorado’s $15 billion agriculture business, the state’s third largest industry. Without accurate data to support strategic farm planning, severe weather periods could potentially destroy the bulk of Colorado’s crops, reducing food supplies and seriously damaging the state’s economy.

Colorado State University’s Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network, or COAGMET, is a cooperative partnership dedicated to collecting and sharing up-to-date weather data to help ensure a profitable and sustainable Colorado agricultural economy. Accurate weather information provided by COAGMET helps farmers make decisions about efficient uses of water, pesticides and other resources.

"It’s easy to think that the only weather information farmers need is an accurate forecast for the next day or week," said Nolan Doesken, research associate at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State. "However, detailed, accurate and timely information regarding a variety of current and past weather conditions are very important for agricultural decision making and to support research that will improve crop production and enhance Colorado’s agricultural industry."

With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Colorado State Agricultural Experiment Station, CSU Cooperative Extension and several commodities groups, COAGMET has become a network of more than 40 automated weather stations located in rural farm areas throughout Colorado. Electronic sensors measure precipitation, temperature, humidity, wind speed, solar radiation and soil temperature. All data is available to farmers and the general public through a daily updated Web site at Station photos and location maps are also available on the site.

Information from COAGMET is being used by growers to plan efficient irrigation scheduling that can reduce water use by up to 10 percent a year. Careful monitoring of the network’s weather data also helps farmers anticipate insect and disease outbreaks, reducing the quantity of pesticide and herbicide applications needed to assure productive harvests and saving Colorado farmers many thousands of dollars per year.

"Comprehensive, precise and current weather data are important, especially during severe weather periods such as Colorado’s current drought, for the state’s agricultural producers to make day-to-day decisions that ensure the most efficient use of water," said Colorado State Climatologist Roger Pielke. "The information is also valuable in helping growers decide the proper amounts of herbicides and pesticides to use. COAGMET improves crop quality and reduces the environmental impact of farming."

Most COAGMET weather stations are powered by solar panels and process weather information using computerized data loggers. Stations transmit data summaries for one-hour increments to a central computer at Colorado State via internal cellular telephone technology.

Beyond providing information for day-to-day farming decisions, COAGMET is additionally allowing new opportunities for climatic research with the potential of offering greater agricultural benefits in the future. Several weather stations have been in operation for 10 years and have provided sufficient data records for climatological research and analysis by the Colorado Climate Center.

"Before the establishment of COAGMET, wind and solar energy information, data to evaluate year to year differences in humidity and evaporation rates for a variety of agricultural data across Colorado were unavailable," said Doesken. "We can now use this data from the past to better plan and adapt for the future."

COAGMET began in the early 1990s when two groups on the Colorado State campus – the plant pathology extension specialists and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Water Management Unit – discovered a mutual interest in collecting localized weather data. Plant pathology was using weather data for prediction of disease outbreaks in crops such as beans, onions and potatoes, and Agricultural Resource Service used the same information for irrigation scheduling recommendations.

To leverage resources, the two groups formed a coalition and invited others in the agricultural research community to participate. A standardized set of data analysis programs was established and a network of weather stations was created. The Colorado Climate Center took over the daily data collection and quality assessment in 1994. The center subsequently added internet delivery of information and continues to improve the user interface in response to a growing interest in these data.