Pete Falloon (pete.falloon[at]metoffice.gov.uk)
As part of the EU funded project EUPORIAS, we are working closely with Clinton Devon Estates (CDE) and the National Farmers Union (NFU) to develop a working prototype (for example SMS text messages, an app, email or website) to provide seasonal winter weather forecasts (1-3 months ahead) in support of land management decision making, with a focus on cover crop planting, choice, and management in South West England. We are focusing on winter decision making because recent advances in long-range weather forecasting mean it is now often possible to provide advance notice of a colder and drier, or warmer and wetter winter than average conditions.
We believe that better information on future winter weather conditions will support farmers in making better land management decisions, especially related to cover crops and therefore help to justify the additional expenditure involved (seed, fuel, labour) and avoid loss of soil; preventing potential negative impacts on the environment and communities with nutrient leaching and soil on roads. Managing and protecting the soils is also a key cross compliance of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), and the forthcoming revised CAP will likely consider cover cropping as a Greening Option.
However, our current draft forecasts are designed to be useful for land management decisions in general, not just cover crops, so the information provided could be generally applicable to a broader range of land management activities. Therefore we are also aiming to apply the prototype to other weather-related land management decisions beyond just cover-crops (e.g. livestock management, forestry operations).
Our specific aims to:
Enable land managers to make better decisions related to seasonal weather, and land management, particularly for cover crop planting, choice and management
Initially work closely with a small, representative group of 4-6 fully engaged farmers (from CDE), and capture key inputs from the wider community (~30; and potentially beyond, covering both CDE and NFU) to deliver a useful, co-designed tool
Provide tool outputs which can be used during, and assessed for the 2014 and 2015 winter periods
Raise land managers awareness of the importance of considering seasonal weather changes in decision-making
The prototype project will interview and survey farmers to assess their needs for seasonal forecast information, and work closely with them to deliver the service.
So far, we have:
Engaged four farmers across Devon (from CDE), representative of the main farming types, and interviewed them about their needs for seasonal forecasts
Delivered six draft three-month forecasts for Devon (at the end of September, October, November, December, January, and February) to these farmers, during winter 2014/2015. You can see examples of our three month outlooks here.
Used feedback from the farmers to refine the forecasts during Winter 2014/2015.
During summer 2015, we surveyed a broader range of farmers across South West UK (about 20, from CDE and NFU) to get wider views on needs for seasonal forecasts
Worked with a Natural Sciences student project at the University of Exeter to better understand forecast reliability, and ways to improve forecast presentation and understanding.
Used findings from the survey to further develop the prototype service for Winter 2015/2015. We began sending out new 3 month outlooks (UK scale) and site-specific 14 day forecasts for temperature and precipitation at the end of October 2015, through our website (login required). The forecasts will be provided until the end of February 2016. An example of our 14 day site-specific forecasts is given here.
We've been using fornightly teleconferences and a wiki website to keep the project partners in touch.
Next, we’re aiming to:
Use feedback on the forecasts, collected through the website, to further improve the forecasts for land managers
Hold a workshop with the four farmers to better understand their needs for forecast information, and understand the potential benefits (January 2016)
Ultimately, we hope to be able to extend the prototype to a wider set of land management decisions across the UK.