Among the folks I got to meet up with at the Farm Progress Show included a long-delayed meeting with Jeff Hamlin, of the Climate Corporation. I've known Jeff for some time, having covered Climate Corp's weather insurance for the past couple years, and Jeff and I had been trying to get together this summer so he could introduce me to their remote weather monitoring system.
It was, in a word, cool. And worth the time and the wait. But that's eight words.
Some history: Climate Corp was formed several years ago with $110 million in venture capital from Google on the premise that if they could compile volumes of grid-based weather data, there must be some industry that could benefit from weather insurance. Early research looked into the turf industries and then - and this is how I picture it - someone in California said, 'Hey, how about agriculture?' and a lot of people smacked themselves on the forehead. The company spent seven years working to collect and process "hyper-local data that's representative of what the farmer is seeing," as Jeff describes it. 2013 marks at least the third year that Climate Corp has offered weather insurance in the Midwest, although they were originally known as Weather Bill.
At the show, Jeff set me up with a password-protected registration in their new field monitoring system and walked me through the finer points. Back home, my husband and I sat down at the computer and selected several fields to monitor, through their mapping system. We could select the field or set of fields and give them a singular farm name. Easy. Done. We didn't enter every field but instead, a representative sampling of our fields, particularly those furthest from home.
Now that the fields are entered in the system, we can check precipitation, temperature highs and lows, growth stage and soil moisture by field. We can see 24- and 72-hour rainfall totals, and total soil moisture accumulation. The data is part of Climate Corporation's proprietary weather gathering data, amassed and tracked on a kilometer-by-kilometer basis. You enter your planted crop and you can enter planting dates, or it will also estimate planting date. Based on heat units and planting dates, it will estimate relative harvest/maturity date and will estimate freeze risks, for either fall or spring.
The system also estimates yield and shows your "Estimated Weather Impact", based on soil moisture, yield projection, crop growth stage and corn moisture. Obviously, Climate Corp wants you to take a look at these projections, note the weather impact on your crop and consider purchasing some of their insurance for next year.
You can also specify which span of time you'd like to see weather data, which also means you can track weather data for a specific field back to 1980. Think of the arguments you could settle!
Out of curiosity, we checked historic rainfall levels on our Frederick farm and found:
1988: from Jan 1-Sept 1, the farm received 13.86 inches (drought year)
2008: from Jan 1-Sept 1, the farm received 32.28 inches (normal year)
2012: from Jan 1-Sept 1, the farm received 16.12 inches (recent drought year)
There is nothing in the system to stop you from monitoring a field you don't own, which means, technically, I could follow my dad's farms in southern Illinois. It could also be useful for absentee landowners, farm managers, grain marketers or anyone who wants to track information for fields they don't own but have some interest in.
As it stands today, the system is free, however, Climate Corp isn’t taking new registrations until November 1. Come November 1, they'll offer a free version - same features as it has now - and a paid version, with new and fabulous features we don't yet know about.
Either way, this is technology working for us.