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Sensor Network to Provide IA Drought Data

ISU Extension

During last summer’s drought it was difficult for farmers to get accurate data on how dry the soil was. An Iowa State University project that’s been in the works for several years, will change that.

ISU Extension Agronomist Virgil Schmitt said until now farmers relied on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate models. The models were "ground truthed" periodically by staff that would take soil moisture readings.

Even so, Schmitt said, the models proved to be less than reliable.

"Unfortunately this last summer those pretty well fell apart," Schmitt said, "the models, simply with the extreme conditions we had, the models were greatly over predicting or over estimating the amount of moisture that was in the soil."

Schmitt said ISU is establishing a network of weather stations that track soil moisture in real time.  Each station includes soil moisture sensors at several depths.

The data will be automatically texted back to ISU via cell phone every 15 minutes and posted to the web.

The first stations will be installed at I-S-U research farms and will be in place for the coming growing season.

After that they will be placed on private farms as well seed and fertilizer dealerships with the goal of having at least one station in every county.

Scott Stuntz is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.