METOS is helping UK farmers to make better-informed decisions about fungicide applications, through highly accurate sensors which collect climatic data live from the field, combined with effective disease modelling, based on the latest research.
Discover how four farms in Norfolk are using METOS weather stations and disease models for wheat and sugar beet, to optimise their fungicide usage.
Catalyst Farming case study
Dominic Swan is the data analyst at Catalyst Farming, a collaboration between four Norfolk farming businesses – Holkham Farming company, NES Salmon, Raynham Farm Company and Salle Farms Company. Collectively, Dominic oversees the data from 7,000 ha of arable land growing a mix of cereals, spring beans, sugar beet, forage crops and potatoes.
Dominic’s focus is to improve farming across the estates through the use of data. He says, “It’s all based around data collection, so we can see how the decisions we make affect the outcomes. And, rather than just pub talk, we have results with actual statistics behind them.”
Across the four estates are seven METOS weather stations measuring precipitation, wind speed, temperature, humidity, and leaf wetness. There are four stations in winter wheat fields and three in sugar beet. Two of the stations in winter wheat have soil probes attached, measuring soil moisture and temperature.
The stations were purchased through local John Deere dealer Ben Burgess, who supplied and installed them, including connecting the stations to the METOS FieldClimate dashboard, which is available on desktop or via a mobile app. All the farm managers and many of the farmworkers across the four farms have the FieldClimate app on their phones. This gives them access to the data at any time, and they can get an overview of the situation across the wider estates, not just the farm they specifically work on.
The climatic data measured by the stations shows variations across the estates.
“Precipitation is one of the most interesting parameters to monitor,” said Dominic. “Most of the farms have two weather stations on either end of the estates, and the recorded rainfall can vary quite a bit between them in a shower. It’s interesting to see that one part of the farm could have 5 mm and the other parts could have nothing.”
Temperature and leaf wetness data is used in conjunction with METOS disease models to provide insight on the risk from Septoria and rusts in winter wheat, and Cercospora leaf spot in sugar beet.
“Generally, disease levels in the crops have been quite low this year, with low temperatures in March, a dry April, and May continuing to be quite cool. With rain in May, we have started to see spikes in the data, indicating that conditions are optimal for disease cycling and spread,” explained Dominic. “We don’t just rely on the models, though. I still walk the crops quite regularly because we’ve only been using the weather stations for a year or so.”
The METOS disease models help decision-making by indicating the percentage risk of infection by a particular disease, based on the climatic conditions measured in the field and virtually. If the percentage risk is 100%, conditions are ideal for a full cycle of disease within infected plants, and disease spread between plants, leading to increased infection. At lower percentages, the risk of infection and disease cycling is lessened and the impact of the disease may be lower, depending on disease-specific thresholds.
This year, Dominic has used the data from the METOS stations and field observations to help make adjustments to fungicide programmes. He said,
“This year our fungicide programme has been leaner. Most of the winter wheats received a T0 spray to protect against rusts, then at T1 we went in with a lower rate of fungicide of 0.4 L/ha Elatus Era (benzovindiflupyr + prothioconazole) and + 1 L/ha Arizona (folpet) since all the disease models were showing a very low risk, and we hadn’t found many diseases in the crop either. The focus was to continue to protect the crop early, rather than end up in a curative situation.”
Dominic explained that the data from the weather stations is not entirely replacing other monitoring methods, nor are they prepared to stop fungicide applications entirely, even when the disease model says the risk is very low. However, the data and the disease models are supporting decisions to alter fungicide rates. The data is also highlighting some variation in disease incidence across the four estates.
“We have a station right up on the North Norfolk coast, less than a mile from the sea. The data is showing that it’s generally a bit warmer than everything else, which is surprising because crops are normally a little further behind here. We think that’s probably due to the chill factor from the wind, but the weather station doesn’t take that into account, so it’s showing that it’s warmer. It normally gets a bit more rain as well, and the leaf wetness will last a bit longer, so that station does generally show a slightly higher chance of disease infection, though that there hasn’t been a great difference between any of them so far this year,” commented Dominic.
The future of climatic data at Catalyst Farming is giving Dominic the confidence to reduce or increase fungicide rates, according to the disease risk. There are cost advantages from this approach too.
“You don’t have to cut a fungicide rate by very much on the scale that we’re working with to save quite a lot of money. But equally, if you do cut it, and it is a high disease year, after all, you don’t have to lose very much yield to have an even bigger impact, and you can certainly lose a lot more money by not applying enough fungicide. Having the disease models makes it easier to make that judgement, and hopefully, make money or save money, or both! Despite the upfront cost of installing the stations, I expect them to pay for themselves quite quickly.” concluded Dominic.
Discover the range of METOS disease models
Our disease modelling is available for key diseases across a wide range of crops, including:
Interested in discovering how METOS weather stations and disease models could help your business?
Contact David Whattoff to discuss your requirements.