After a record-breaking summer of heat, several regions across the United States continue to face extreme drought. As of mid-August, 47% of the lower 48 states are experiencing drought, affecting more than 228.9 million acres of crops. Due to the extreme drought, U.S. agricultural forecasters expect drought-stricken cotton farmers to walk away from more than 40% of the 12.5 million acres they sowed this year.

Amid this extreme heat, water management is now on every ag leader’s list of top concerns. In the west, the Bureau of Reclamation officials even declared a “tier 2” shortage in the Colorado River Basin as its largest reservoirs reached new lows, threatening agricultural production and causing the reduction of Arizona and Nevada’s water supply.

Extreme, abrupt, and variable weather conditions will continue to challenge farmers. To mitigate the impact of severe weather on crop production, farmers need to evaluate changing conditions and react quickly.

More Actionable Data is Key

Growing decisions must be data-driven in the current age of smart farming and rising volatile weather conditions. Unfortunately, there are many uncontrollable variables and a lot to lose. Many farmers and water management leaders use weather technology solutions to combat dwindling resources to gather extensive data and monitor everything from precipitation and soil moisture content to well depth.

These advanced solutions help farmers make the right decisions by producing reliable readings with minimal maintenance, reducing the risk of failure when facing extreme drought conditions.

Devastating Drought Impacts

Drought has severe short and long-term consequences regarding crop production. Crops with a limited water supply can have stunted growth, resulting in a decline in the size and quality of produce. Crops also become more vulnerable to pests as soil moisture declines and plant stress increases. Subsequently, as we are already witnessing, consumers can expect higher prices for local food as farmers cope with lower yields and higher expenses – eventually exacerbating economic strain.

Additionally, critical aquifers could see an increase in a salt-water intrusion from overuse of groundwater for irrigation. Drought conditions can also inhibit growers from meeting the needs of future population growth, as these conditions can cause significant yield reductions for rainfed and irrigated crops.

Innovative Sensor Technology Improves Results

Growers must make various decisions based on weather data to minimize crop damage or loss. The weather parameters most affecting crops are temperature, humidity, precipitation, dew point, evapotranspiration, and wind speed. Additionally, as the water supply for irrigation becomes more limited amid drought conditions, measuring soil moisture data is critical for optimizing deficit irrigation strategies.

Farmers need more agile monitoring tools to understand better how drought and other extreme conditions affect crops so they can devise new mitigation strategies.

Determining which sensors to install and where to place them varies from one farm and crop to the next. Growers need data from a minimum set of sensors in their fields to monitor conditions more accurately, including:

  • Leaf Wetness
  • Soil Moisture
  • Soil Salinity
  • Soil Temperature
  • Solar Radiation
  • Pressure Transducers
  • Flow meters

Advanced sensors and personal farming experience make decisions easier based on specific crop and planting dates. This approach includes easy-to-use irrigation and soil moisture reports gathered from data from weather stations and soil moisture probes installed in fields. Flow meters can also track water usage, and pressure transducers monitor irrigation sets and the health of irrigation lines.

With durable sensors and stations deployed, real-time data from these technologies let farmers monitor micro-climate conditions in their crops across production fields year-round with minimal maintenance. Weather conditions, like precipitation, can vary drastically from one field to the next.

Deploying multiple rain collectors or soil moisture sensors allows producers more clear understanding of the precise conditions in each field. As a result, they can take the best actions to improve crop quality and yield.

Staying connected

In today’s IoT world, the most efficient method to interact with weather and farm sensor data is on a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop computer. Immediate access to real-time, actionable data enables farmers to react to changing weather conditions to manage crop inputs, labor, and fuel costs. The ability to view weather and farm sensor data anywhere, at any time, also help farmers reduce unnecessary field visits. Labor availability and costs are serious concerns regarding a producer’s bottom line. Reducing the number of visits to each field and reallocating resources to other tasks can help farm managers improve the entire team’s productivity.

Creating the right weather system for every farm

The ideal weather risk management solution is specific to each farm’s individual goals, needs, and location. Asking the right questions before installation can ensure that each farm chooses the best communication (telemetry) hardware, weather stations, and sensors to collect the data needed to create actionable insights and assist growers in extreme weather conditions.

Irrigation choices, crop variety, field conditions, and growing season all influence the type of sensors and hardware needed. Knowing the geographic area’s threat to crops, like drought, heat, and flood, is critical. Additionally, knowing what data is necessary for every farm’s specific crop, soil, and equipment will affect the sensors needed to start each system.

Looking ahead

Weather will always be an uncontrollable driving force in the world of farming. Climate conditions are everchanging, and cycles of drought and abundant precipitation are continuing at accelerating rates. Therefore, it is now critical for farmers to continue adapting and mitigating any damage caused by extreme weather conditions.

By implementing advanced, easy-to-use weather technology solutions, farmers can have the data needed to make decisions based on accurate, reliable data from sensors across fields, producing the best and largest possible yields.


Chris Sullivan is the Sector Leader of Agriculture at AEM and was the President of Davis Instruments when acquired by AEM. Chris is an AgTech evangelist, driven by his passion for global food security and water sustainability. We can accomplish both by building sensors and software tools that help farmers improve crop yield and quality while optimizing water use. Before joining Davis Instruments in 2016, Chris led the digital ag business for a multinational irrigation company. Earlier in his career, he held multiple supply chain and operations management positions in various industries. He has a B.S. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an MBA from the University of San Francisco.