WIN connects innovative research with site-specific applications to help manage risk.
For over 12 years, Weather INnovations Incorporated (WIN) has been developing weather-based decision support systems, models and tools to help farmers with timely management decisions and risk management. WIN started as a project at the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, but as it expanded the program was spun out into an independent company in 2006.
“Our first tools started out to help farmers with fungicide-timing models to manage diseases in tomatoes, sugarbeets and wheat,” explains Ian Nichols, President of WIN. “WIN now produces multi-disciplinary programs for disease, insects, frost mitigation, soil moisture, harvest timing and insurance; and also provides solutions for research, marketing and consulting requirements. We create programs for producer organizations, agencies and growers of specific commodities. Our goal is to make weather-based modelling much easier to use at the farm level, and to bring the best information from the information supply chain into practice. We are currently operating about 10 program websites and have another 10 more websites under development.has developed an unusual collaborative business model that Nichols believes is as close to the elusive public-private partnership as possible. “Our business model is engage sponsors for our products and programs facilitating the delivery of these tools to producers, organizations and researchers at no charge when possible,” explains Nichols. “We work with coops, farm supply businesses, crop protection companies, governments and universities across Canada to provide a toolbox of customized weather-based monitoring and modeling solutions.”
WIN also works with partners on several projects across Europe. “In Europe, agriculture is much more stringent about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) than we are in North America,” says Nichols. “We are partnering to develop easy-to-use tools to help growers be compliant and meet best practices and guidelines. As their guidelines and regulations tighten, we can bring this experience and expertise back to North America to help farmers here.” WIN works on several projects with a plant pathologist in England and have systems installed in Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, Hungary and other countries.
Customizing Decision Support Tools to Manage On-Farm Risk
“For many of the decision support tools, all a farmer needs is a computer or a smart phone for access,” says Nichols. “Farmers have the choice of accessing basic information when they want, without logging in. Taking just a few minutes to setup a web-based account however grants them access to involved decision tools and allows us to provide more individualized advisory services. They enter certain key details so the system can provide them with timely information to make decisions and manage risk. If a farmer truly wants to be engaged and get value out of the tools then the system needs to know where they are because the weather is where they are.”
The Manitoba Potato Weather Network is an industry program that assists in weather monitoring network operations and in the delivery of information to growers and the potato industry. Through the partnership with WIN, potato growers have access to weather, disease forecasts, spray advisory forecasts and other tools and information. Similar tools are also available for the Ontario grape and tender fruit producers and industry, such as automated alarms for temperature drops, frost, fungicide applications and other factors requiring timely decisions. Other tools have been developed for various vegetable and fruit crops, grain crops and golf courses.
“We have also developed decision support tools for the Michigan and Ontario sugar beet growers that allows growers to customize their strategy for assessing disease risk and spray applications,” says Nichols. “A grower can login into the website and set their custom alarm level such as three days before the next spray interval. The system also allows them to choose their individual level of risk such as the disease severity limit or threshold they want to use for managing the disease, which can be different from any neighbor in the system.”
WIN continues to expand the tools and decision support models available for the agriculture industry. “If we can crunch the numbers, then we can develop a decision support system on anything, not just weather-based data,” explains Nichols. “Although we continue to expand weather-based decision support tools, we are also developing financial tools and other data management decision support tools to help the agriculture industry and farm managers. We continue to look for ways to find more value added tools that producers need and ways to continue to link science to on farm management.”
“We collaborate with partners to try to pull science down to the farm level and to help farm managers make better and more timely decisions,” says Ian Nichols.