For farmers, timely information is vital. The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa is deploying new hydrologic stations that provide real-time weather information that farmers can use. The stations measure rainfall, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture and temperature. A shallow groundwater well also provides information about the water table. And the IFC makes all the data publicly available on the internet.
Father and son Stewart and Jared Maas farm about 1,800 acres 25 miles west of Iowa City. Their home farm is the site of one of the new IFC hydrologic stations. “We try to do everything the right way,” Jared explains, and data collected by the IFC hydro station can help. As Stewart and Jared prepare for spring fieldwork, they can check the online sensor data to learn when the soil is ready to plant, the best time for field applications, and how to plan for changing weather conditions.
“It helps a lot,” Stewart says. One example is the application of fertilizer in the fall. Farmers are encouraged to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or colder to limit nitrogen loss. Stewart and Jared now have facts on which to base their decisions — a real advantage for big operations like theirs. For Stewart and Jared, the data provide peace of mind that they’re doing things “the right way.”
Stewart has been working with University of Iowa researchers for years. “The university has been really good to us here,” Stewart says. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the hydrology department.”
Besides providing vital information for agriculture, sensor data also support IFC activities for the $97M Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) statewide program focused on reducing flood risk in nine watersheds across Iowa. The Maas farm is in the Clear Creek Watershed, which is part of the IWA. John Rathbun, project coordinator for the Clear Creek Watershed, says that interest in the IWA is growing among landowners in the basin. “It’s really all about building relationships,” he explains. Participation in the IWA is entirely voluntary for landowners, and farmers get a 75% cost share if they choose to build a conservation practice such as a farm pond on their property.
With funding from the IWA, the IFC will deploy a network of 20 hydrologic stations this year. The new sensors represent an expansion of the IFC’s current network of nearly 50 similar rain gauge stations statewide. This growing network of hydrologic stations is helping the IFC reach its goal of 100 stations deployed in Iowa—one in each county. This network will help researchers and stakeholders better predict floods, assess droughts, and manage water resources. In addition, Iowa’s farmers can use the information to support their crop management systems and potentially boost yields.
The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) online tool provides real-time information on watersheds, precipitation, and stream levels for more than 1,000 Iowa communities. Data collected from the hydrologic stations can be accessed at ifis.iowafloodcenter.org/ifis/app.
“Farming doesn’t pay very well,” says Stewart. But, he adds, “It makes farming fun, getting involved in some of these things.”