The Digital Future of Ag

Posted in Blog, Farming on Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Move over “Farmers’ Almanac” - with WUS’s DAS, farmers get time-sensitive data.

The Digital Future of Ag

In the year 2023, in the age of the internet, our lives have become absolutely inundated with data. Your social media accounts collect data. Your car collects data. Your smart refrigerator, smart TV, or smart doorbell all collect data. And usually that data can be used to better understand our habits, our priorities, and our world.

In the production of their crops year over year, farmers collect and analyze tons of data. For centuries, the Farmers Almanac has kept a written record of weather events, planting seasons and astronomical tables. Before that, farmers would pass down data by word of mouth: “Last summer, the insects ate all the beans but left the squash.”

Modern farmers collect tons of data on their own farms but have additional tools that can share time-sensitive information about insects, disease and other horticultural models. Washington State University’s Decision Aid System (DAS) is one such tool, a web-based system designed for potato and tree-fruit growers, which incorporates weather data, NOAA’s National Digital Forecast Database, and custom pest information uploaded by entomologists at the university. WSU estimates that growers use data from DAS on a regular basis on more than 90% of the potato and tree-fruit acreage throughout the state.

“Using those data, we can actually predict when crops will be in bloom, when insect populations are coming out of their overwintering site,” said David Crowder, associate professor of entomology at WSU. “We provide all this information on a free digital platform for growers so they can log on, get predictions for what's happening on their own farm and forecasts of when those insect pests are gonna be there up to two weeks, four weeks ahead of time. And allow them to make proactive decisions as opposed to reactive decisions.”

Entomologists like Crowder enter specific data and forecasts for specific pests — like the Colorado potato beetle. That specialized information helps farmers to know exactly when those insects will be laying eggs, so the farmers can apply the appropriate amount of pesticide in order to control those insects. Not only does that result in less pesticide usage, but it also translates to a financial savings for those farmers.

“Our users actually estimate the benefits of this system to be somewhere between $75 to $100 per acre in reduced pesticide costs and labor cost inputs,” said Crowder. “And we believe we're helping save the broader ag industry in Washington around $30 to $40 million each year based on some of these estimates.”

The Farmer’s Almanac has had a good run, but Washington’s farmers need more current information to perform at their very best. The world relies on Washington’s farmers, and Washington’s farmers rely on time-sensitive data to grow their crops.