A growing advantage: P.E.I. fruit and vegetable growers install weather stations

A growing number of Island farmers are using technology to their advantage, installing their own weather stations.
This is the monitoring unit Sandy MacKay is using on his organic vegetable farm in Hope River, P.E.I. (Submitted by Sandy MacKay)

A growing number of Prince Edward Island farmers are using technology to their advantage, installing their own weather stations.

Sandy MacKay installed a weather station this summer at his organic vegetable farm in Hope River, P.E.I. The system includes five sensors that connect to his computer and collect data including soil and air temperature, humidity, rainfall and wind.

"It's good for planning, instead of guessing," said MacKay, who received government funding to purchase the station.

"Now I can look back at those temperatures and then decide, well I know I can't plant yellow beans in the ground before a certain date."

Sandy MacKay and his granddaughter on his organic farm in Hope River, P.E.I. (Submitted by Sandy MacKay)

As an organic farmer, MacKay will also use the data from the weather station to help him deal with pests.

"When you're planting in the spring you can say, 'Well, if I plant before the temperature is x, I'm taking a chance that this little maggot will eat all the seeds,'" explained MacKay.

Sandy MacKay's farm in Hope River, P.E.I. where he installed his own weather station this summer. (Submitted by Sandy MacKay)

Changing conditions

Matos Winery in St. Catharines, P.E.I., was one of the first farms to have its own weather station. It was instrumental in helping the owners know what vines to plant, as they shared the weather data with an expert in Italy.

"I gave him my password so he could be sitting in Italy and just hook up into our weather station here," explained Heather Matos. "It was really amazing."

"We get an idea how the rainfall changes from year to year, how much dew, what to expect from the vines because that affects the vines, how much rain we get," she said.

Matos Winery used their weather station to share data with an expert in Italy who helped them set up their vines on P.E.I. (CBC)

She has watched with interest as many other growers across the Island have added their own weather stations.

"It would be very wise to use it and to keep a record of how things change from year to year because, let's face it, the weather is really changing from year to year, and I've noticed that since we moved here," said Matos.

Available to the public

Matos and MacKay's weather stations are among 22 on Prince Edward Island featured on a website called Weather Underground, where their data is available to the public. 

Many of the weather stations are also monitored by the UPEI Climate Research Lab.

The lab installed five weather stations in 2013 to try to fill in the gaps where there is no Environment Canada station.

This weather station at Fanning Brook, P.E.I., near Mount Stewart, sends data to the Weather Underground website, available to the public. (Submitted by the UPEI Climate Research Lab)

Working with the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture, the Climate Research Lab also placed systems on a number of farms across the Island, including an apple orchard, a sheep farm and a dairy farm.

"Grape growers, apple growers, even blueberry growers, are quite interested in the amount of rainfall, the amount of heat, the frost," explained Don Jardine, climate station manager at the lab.

"Very cold temperatures in the winter time can affect some of the apple trees and grape vines, winter kill can affect some of the small fruit crops as well."

The UPEI Climate Research Lab installed a weather station at the orchards of Canadian Nectar Product in Alliston, P.E.I. (Submitted by the UPEI Climate Research Lab)

Jardine works with growers installing stations to make sure the units are calibrated and running properly.  The lab downloads the data every month, to make sure the station is still recording, and produces monthly and annual climate summaries of the information from across P.E.I.

New ventures need data

The Climate Lab collects data from 30 different weather stations, including ones installed by the provincial and federal departments of agriculture, and even the P.E.I. Department of Transportation — which has five stations.

Another weather station, this one in Hampton, P.E.I., close to a field helps measure wind speeds, temperature and precipitation. (Submitted by the UPEI Climate Research Lab)

"Everybody collects data for their own purpose but there was nobody that was actually trying to collect all the data and getting the big picture like do we have micro-climates, do we have areas that get more rain than others," said Jardine.

The Climate Lab has also installed weather stations at some new agricultural ventures, including Canadian Nectar Product. 

"The people who are interested in growing new crops that have not traditionally been grown on P.E.I., they need to know the temperature ranges, wind data, frost free days, those are all critical factors."

The ultimate goal, says Jardine, is to put real time readings from all of the P.E.I. weather stations on one website.

There are only two Environment Canada weather stations in West Prince so the UPEI Climate Research lab added this one at Cape Egmont, P.E.I. (Submitted by UPEI Climate Research Lab)

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog.