Weather phenomena such as hurricanes can be sudden, violent, and cause massive damage. In contracts, the less dramatic drought is longer lasting and causes even more damage and similar costs over a much longer period (Motha 2001). Montana was in a dramatic drought from 1997 to 2006, and in some areas of Montana there were 12 years of declining precipitation totals (WRCC, 2007). The effects of this drought have had an enormous impact on Montana, its farmers and ranchers, forests, and overall economy.
For decades meteorological data have been collected for various sites in the western United States. Although these data provide important information on a very broad scale, users are constrained by its resolution in developing specific local applications. Not only have the historical data been coarse in collection resolution, they have also missed key pieces of information on soil moisture and temperature that have explicit ties to forage, crop, and range production. Without these measurements, it is difficult to understand the current, historical, or future effects of drought conditions.
All of this points to the need for more precise weather information, with parameters expanded to include the important variables missed in the past. The National Drought Council also recognizes these key missing pieces of information and has recommended the use of soil moisture and soil temperature data to determine drought.
The goals of the Western SARE program are to promote good stewardship of the nation’s natural resources and to strengthen the family farm system of agriculture. This project meets these goals by providing and connecting agriculture producers with critical information and tools that are currently lacking by improving our measurement and our understanding of soil moisture. This collaborative project will extend the spatial footprint of current soil moisture monitoring and broaden the utilization of tools developed with the collected soil moisture data. The Montana / Wyoming Soil Moisture Network will develop new monitoring sites; revitalize, collect, and aggregate data from a set of the existing sites that are most easily repaired; and use this information to develop, update, refine tools for agriculture producers, land managers, and research investigators all based on standards set by the newly formed National Soil Moisture Network.
Drought monitoring is critical to Montana”s resource managers but is hampered by a lack of data on crucial drought indicators: soil moisture and temperature. Crop and range yield losses and the associated economic impacts of drought, are strongly linked to the amount
of soil moisture in the profile available for plant uptake. Cumulative rainfall data alone are poor predictors of drought impacts, because costly short-term soil moisture deficits can occur in years of average or above average rainfall. Soil moisture measurements are combined with data about the site’s soil to produce a measurement of the amount of moisture available to plants, known as plant available water (PAW), a much better measurement of drought stress the plants are under.
Through our Extension appointments we will create local connections to pair select high-tech monitoring soil moisture monitoring sites with a broader network of low-tech monitoring sites. The group of professionals involved in this project are Extension Faculty at Montana State University (MSUE) and University of Wyoming Extension. The high-tech sites will be instrumented with Meter weather suite and soil moisture sensors.
We will investigate the use of drones to determine soil moisture to be funded in future cycles. The low tech sites will be monitored by participating producers using the Paul Brown Probe (http://www.ams-samplers.com/pdfs/ams-brown-moisture-probe.pdf) and in some instances low cost Watermark Soil Moisture Sensors (http://www.davisnet.com/product/soil-moisture-sensor-vantage-pro-and-vantage-pro2/ ). The Paul Brown Probe is currently commonly used by agriculture producers and consultants in our region to estimate PAW in crop land and improved pasture sites. Its use in Rangelands has been limited and will be explored to a limited extent with this grant and will likely be the subject of a subsequent project.
This project will improve its utility through updating the supporting models that allow producers to use the probe in decision making.
Additionally, important to our improved understanding of the spatial variability of soil moisture, this effort will follow the model of community monitoring established by the successful Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS)
(http://www.cocorahs.org/). Network participants, partners, and community members will be trained on how to collect soil moisture using the Paul Brown Probe and how to enter their results into an online database.
Another purpose of this project is to develop web-based tools that are currently unavailable to assist range managers and agency people in making critical decisions relative to disaster declarations and drought conditions. Additionally, the web-based tool will provide information important to planning concerning range production and management decisions based on local weather and soil moisture information
(Whilhite 2000). The web-based tools will provide users the ability to regularly access this information.
Finally, all of the objectives in this proposal came from ideas proposed by and discussions held with producer members of local drought advisory boards and Conservation Districts throughout Montana. Through factsheets, publications, field trainings and demonstrations, and project specific website hosted at MSUE, the collected data and subsequent tools will be shared with users across central Montana and Wyoming. The improved understanding of soil moisture availability and the improvement to associated data interpretive tools will improve decision making. This will positively impact the economic and environmental return for direct users while providing societal benefits through improved resource utilization.
1. Expand the footprint of soil moisture monitoring network in Montana and create the MT/WY Soil Moisture Network. (Year 1 and 2).
a. Revitalize, assimilate, and catalog existing soil moisture data from south central Montana.
b. Establish additional soil moisture monitoring sites with participating producers.
c. Assimilate soil moisture data from other sensor networks to achieve regional coverage (e.g. Wyoming, RAWS, Scans).
d. Incorporate Montana Climate Office and Montana Institute on Ecosystems sites into the larger network.
e. Standardize soil moisture sensors by measuring essential soil properties governing plant water availability.
f. Develop methods for quality control and maintenance to ensure long-term survivability and expansion to other areas of the Northern
2. After the first year of collecting and aggregating data, implement Educational and Outreach.
a. Develop and deliver factsheets and visual outreach pieces. (End of year 1 continuing to years 2,3 and beyond).
b. Include a discussion of the project and results in Extension workshops. (End of year 1 continuing to years 2,3 and beyond).
3. Utilize the aggregated soil moisture data in conjunction with climate information to create and update decision-making tools. (year 1 and 2)
a. Develop an early drought warning tool that integrates sensor outputs and the site-specific soil properties to calculate plant available (year 2 and 3)
water. http://webpages.charter.net/klschmelzer/Stillwater_Weather.html#Center2,3 (Fig. 1).
b. Develop a tool to predict forage production and stocking rates early in the grazing season on rangelands. The current year’s rainfall for
April + May + June, compared as a percentage of the same months from long term climate data correlates to expected range production for the year. (Kruse et al. 2007; Morgan et al. 2006).
c. Develop tools to predict grain yield based on current soil moisture and NWS long-term precipitation probabilities (Brown and Carlson
4. Collect soil moisture data to determine if a larger more in-depth study is warranted in a future funding cycle to assess the potential of
using soil thermal inertia to map soil moisture from drones (Garcia 2015) (Year 1).
5. Increase stakeholder’s literacy and the size and strength of the network of users using simple soil moisture tools (e.g. Paul Brown Probe).
(year 2 and 3).
a. Following a community network model (e.g. CoCoRaHS), refine and improve the spatial scale of fine scale soil moisture availability
monitoring. Incorporate data through the community network (e.g. Paul Brown users). This project will concentrate on uses in rain fed crop
land and improved pasture. An initial exploration of the efficacy and feasibility of using the Paul Brown probes in rangeland will be
b. Improve producers access to a low-cost soil moisture monitoring tools.
6. Solicit feedback by end users through the development process of these tools and guides. (All years).
The project began through conversations with agriculture and water sector stakeholders about how to better assess and address needs related to drought and climate information in Montana. Available data at the time consisted solely of hydrologic data, i.e. USGS streamgages, NOAA weather stations, and SNOTEL snowpack monitoring sites.
“We started asking ‘how can we capture what’s happening in the ground – the soil moisture?’ We know our rainfall falls and it either evaporates or runs off. But there’s a bunch of stuff we don’t know. How much enters the soil? How deep does it go? How long does it stay? How does it change over time? All of that plays into – along with management and how you treat the ground – what grows on top of it.”
We looked for collaborators and found the Montana Mesonet which started just after our grant submission. The Montana Mesonet seeks to integrate collected data by developing user-based applications and decision tools to support precision agriculture and adaptive management decisions for farmers and ranchers. Resources are in the process of being developed. Stakeholder input has been crucial to the process. Based on feedback gathered from these types of workshops, potential application functionalities might include planting and agronomic decision-making tools, forage production prediction tools using NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) to ground-truth satellite information, grain yield prediction tools, and enhancement of state and county drought maps based on stored soil moisture data.
We are still in the initial phase of our project and do not have many results as of yet.
The information generated by this project will provide better data to assist range managers and agency staff to make critical decisions relative to drought conditions, disaster declarations, and crop insurance:
1) land management decisions; 2) expert letters for insurance decisions; 3) better data presented to state drought committees 4) supplemental data reviewed by the National Drought Mitigation Center for drought and disaster determination; 5) fire management planning; 6) Improving soil moisture reports made by MSU Extension and others to Montana Ag statistics service and used in drought determinations.
At educational workshops held in January of 2018 producers at three workshops were asked for feedback on potential tools and their value to them. Of 36 respondents 81.6% strongly or somewhat agreed that early warning drought tools would be useful for their operation. 82.93% strongly or somewhat agreed that predicting range growth early in the year would be useful for their operation. 88.6% strongly or somewhat agreed that soil moisture and soil temperature data would be useful for their operation; 100% strongly or somewhat agreed that having the soil moisture and trend data to share with drought and disaster declaration officials would be useful for their operation.
•One of our objectives was to solicit feedback by end users through the development process of these tools and guides. We are developing a list of producers from across the area that have volunteered to help us ground truth these tools as we develop them. To date the list contains 12 names.
Educational & Outreach Activities
September 7th 2017. Montana Climate Summit. Represented MSU Extension at the summit and discussed needs and vision of the Soil Moisture Network and Tools
Monthly Meeting of the MSU Extension Climate Science team. Report on progress and solicit feedback on the Soil Moisture Network and Tools Project.
January 23rd, 24th and 25th, 2018. Clyde Park, Two Dot, and Winnett Montana (respectively). Drought Resilient Ranching Workshop. Held all day workshops which included a 1 hour presentation on the project. Gathered data on efficacy and design of proposed tools. There were 48 ranchers and 30 agency personnel in attendance.
April 4th, 2018. Columbus, Montana. Climate Trends and Their Effect on Montana’s Forests, Water, and Agriculture. There was an 1/2 hour presentation on the Soil Moisture Network and Tools. There were 43 people in attendance. A MT and WY Collaborative.
May 22nd thru 24th, 2018; Montana County Agriculture Agents Annual Ag Update. Planning a 2 hour presentation on Soil Moisture Network and Tools. A MT and WY Collaborative and the Montana Mesonet.
November 7th and November 9th , 2018. Missoula, Montana and Columbus, Montana. Measurement, Interpretation, and Application of Soil Moisture Data: Integrating Technologies from Field to Space. Planning 2 workshops outlining progress on the Soil Moisture Network and Tools. A MT and WY collaborative.
October, 2018. MSU Extension Annual Conference. We are planning a Drought Resilient Ranching workshop.
July 29th to August 2nd, 2018. Chattanooga, Tennessee. National Association of County Agriculture Agents. A Poster has been submitted on Soil Moisture Network and Tools. A MT and WY Collaborative and the Montana Mesonet.
July 29th to August 2nd, 2018. Chattanooga, Tennessee. National Association of County Agriculture Agents Submitted a workshop proposal on Soil Moisture Network and Tools. – A MT and WY Collaborative and the Montana Mesonet.
• One of our objectives was to solicit feedback by end users through the development process of these tools and guides. At educational workshops held in January of 2018 producers at three workshops were asked for feedback on potential tools and their value to them. Of 36 respondents 81.6% strongly or somewhat agreed that early warning drought tools would be useful for their operation. 82.93% strongly or somewhat agreed that predicting range growth early in the year would be useful for their operation. 88.6% strongly or somewhat agreed that soil moisture and soil temperature data would be useful for their operation; 100% strongly or somewhat agreed that having the soil moisture and trend data to share with drought and disaster declaration officials would be useful for their operation.
We have plans in place, collaborations solidified and the resources available thanks to our cooperators and Western SARE to complete all 6 of our objectives by the end of the 3 year grant term.
We installed two of the ten stations planned in the fall of 2017. The remainder will be installed spring thru summer 2018. We have developed cooperator agreements with all of the planned cooperators and have developed legal contract templates for the county and conservation district participants.
New working relations have been developed with the Montana Mesonet, Montana USGS, Montana Bureau of Land Management, Montana Institute on Ecosystems, and the Yellowstone Conservation District.
We have developed a relationship with the Montana Climate Office (MCO) and the Montana Mesonet that will greatly help us meet all our objectives. Near real-time communication via cellular networks transmit data to the MCO that are reported through the Mesonet web site, providing current weather and soil moisture conditions. Current reporting format (Fig. 4) lists the current value all variables recorded at each station and the value 24 hours ago. Clicking on the variable name pops-up a chart of the values over the last seven days. Volumetric water content monitors, soil response to precipitation, and vegetation, soil temperature monitors, subsurface response to surface temperature trends, and electrical conductivity is sensitive to agricultural inputs and changes to soil processes. The vertical soil sensor array monitors trends with depth and potential recharge. Soil data support decisions about crop timing, stocking levels, available water, irrigation efficiency, and drought potential.
The vision for the MT Mesonet goes beyond stations. The MCO with our help seeks to: serve landowners and agencies with data and analysis needed to support daily management decisions and long-range drought monitoring and management plans; develop user-guided applications and web-interfaces to share data and products; conduct research into applications of integrated soil moisture data; use Mesonet data to verify and improve satellite data use in Montana; and integrate Mesonet data with broader weather data to support emergency management, public health, disaster response and recovery, and other emerging needs.
Each Mesonet station produces a lot of data every day. We are working towards user based tools to better interpret the raw data. In the spirit of exploring possibilities, the following section presents plots of data collected from one active station.
Figure 4: Screen captures of smartphone display of Mesonet data from the Reed Point station since installation. Active station data can be accessed at http://climate.umt.edu/mesonet/Stations/default.php
Real-time drought monitoring is essential for early detection and adaptive management to mitigate the negative impacts of drought on the people, economy, and ecosystems of Montana.
The information generated by this project will provide better data to assist range managers and agency staff to make critical decisions relative to drought conditions, disaster declarations, and crop insurance: 1) land management decisions; 2) expert letters for insurance decisions; 3) better data presented to state drought committees 4) supplemental data reviewed by the National Drought Mitigation Center for drought and disaster determination; 5) fire management planning; 6) Improving soil moisture reports made by MSU Extension and others to Montana Ag statistics service and used in drought determinations.