This summer's drought conditions have tested Ontario's potato growers, of which more than half irrigate.
From April through July, nearly all of southern Ontario received at least 20 percent below normal rain amounts, says Rory Sweeting of Chatham-based Weather INnovations Inc.
"It's not just that the overall totals are dreadful," said Sweeting, "but that the times between rains have been very long, and most were short, heavy downpours that were very geographically isolated. Having gone weeks without rain, working as hard as they can to draw every last bit of moisture from the soil, some crops are on the verge of giving up."
To assist growers in becoming more efficient, economical and sustainable in their water usage, WIN and the Ontario Potato Board have launched a research project to evaluate the innovative integration of remote environmental sensing, mathematical modelling, crop production science and interactive online technologies through a new website, www.ONpotatoes.ca, that provides near-real-time decision support tools that can tell growers when they need to turn the taps on.
"In the past, timing irrigation events perfectly to get the maximum effect, using the least amount of water, was very challenging, says Sweeting. "Today, however, new technologies are available to take the guesswork out of decision making."
Using automated monitoring equipment installed at a test farm in Simcoe County, WIN is keeping a constant eye on both weather conditions (rainfall, temperature and wind) and the soil moisture at five depths in the potato field. Wireless cellular units transmit the recorded data back to WIN's computers, where it's analyzed and transformed into user-friendly online advisories in the form of easy-to-read maps and graphs.