Farmer road test for weather monitoring and forecasting 'decision tools'

A recent NFU workshop, organised jointly with AHDB and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), presented farmers with the latest web-based decision tools for weather and hydrological forecasting. Members were presented with the challenge of ensuring that future versions of those tools meet the needs of farmers.

Although agriculture has faced the twin challenges of a 2018 drought followed by widespread flooding this year, extreme weather events are still relatively rare – and difficult to predict.

Significant funding has recently been made available to improve our understanding of what causes historical droughts and this is slowly but surely enabling improvements to be made to seasonal forecasting.

A number of drought forecasting and decision-making tools are now becoming available, and some of them are also relevant for ‘too much water’ situations.

The NFU-hosted workshop brought together academic institutions which have been developing a range of decision-support tools, and invited farmers to test their application and potential benefit on an individual farm and wider catchment scale.

Farmers who attended the workshop identified the need for local, high resolution information; improved data on emerging soil moisture conditions; and for more robust, long-term and timely forecasts.

  • The UK Drought Portal offers interactive monitoring by offering dynamic mapping of rainfall deficits at 5km grid scale that is updated monthly.
  • The UK Water Resources portal takes the Drought Portal on a stage further by including data on rainfall and river flows, although groundwater data is not yet included.
  •  COSMOS is a system of real-time field-scale soil moisture observations with data collected from 50 sites covering range of soil and vegetation types. Meteorological data – rainfall, temperature and wind speed – are also collected, with 4-5 years data harvested so far. COSMOS is becoming an increasingly useful tool for identifying trends rather than a snapshot of drought status.
  • The UK Hydrological Outlook provides, on a monthly basis, predictions for the next 1-3 months – and sometimes for the next 12 months. This is not an interactive tool but a standard 12 pages of information with one page summary highlighting very high level trends.
  •  D-Risk is a tool designed by Cranfield University to manage irrigation abstraction and drought risks at the farm scale. D-Risk II is currently being developed to operate at catchment scale and will be capable of assessing the aggregated risks of farmers in the same area. The tool has been primarily developed to help farmers to manage the business risks of water shortages, and identify how reductions in licensed volumes could impact on current farm business plans. The tool also factors in the different attitudes to risk of different farmers.

The NFU is committed to further participation in these initiatives which will gradually improve our ability to predict extreme weather events and farmers’ ability to manage and mitigate their impacts.

You can find more here about the ‘About Drought’ UK Droughts and Water Scarcity research programme

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