Cutting-edge technology helping farmers track the weather

By  | 

HOTCHKISS, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT) -- Local farmers feel the heat when a late season freeze is in the forecast.

But some local farmers are testing out new technology that can help them monitor the weather not only on their farms but others as well.

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has worked with Smart Yields, a Hawaii based tech company, to install sensor technology on 16 farms across Western Colorado. It allows users to not only monitor and get alerts about conditions on their farm and farms in neighboring areas.

"In Orchard Mesa and Palisade, the conventional wisdom is the coldest farms are further west," said Harrison Topp, Membership Director for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and owner of Topp Fruits. "The farms closer to the canyon can see the cold weather moving towards you."

It can also give farmers a better look at the idiosyncrasies of their land.

"What I’ve learned is that in terms of what the temperature difference is huge," Topp said. "That’s been a huge advantage in determining where we are going to plant future crops."

Supporters say it can help give farmers a better understanding of these microclimates, and broader climate change.

"We are seeing trees moving into bloom a month earlier than they should," said Frank Stonaker a Research Scientist and Site Manager for Western Colorado Research Center, Rogers Mesa, and the owner of Osito Orchard. "This informs fruit growers of the huge climate changes that are impacting us and maybe we should shift crops that are a little bit more frost tolerant."

It's already paid dividends on one farm that was alerted to freezing temperatures and helped the farmer save his crop.

It can also prevent farmers from using countermeasures when they don't have to. It can cost $500 an acre to heat an orchard through frost season.

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is looking to expand the technology to other farms. The Union and the technology company are also looking to see how these sensors can be put to use elsewhere: such as for tracking moisture in the soil, and humidity to help control pests.

"This past year was a pilot study to see how it worked so I’m excited to see in the future working with them and how to best improve the product," Topp said.