Soil Moisture Network and Tools - MT and WY collaborative

Progress report for OW17-009

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2017: $49,995.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Lee Schmelzer
Montana State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

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.

Project Objectives:

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
Plains.
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
1990).
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
conducted.
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).

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Robert Vanoosten
  • Kevin Hyde (Educator)
  • Don and Carla Hutson
  • John Patterson
  • Steve Keating
  • Jan Kreuger Otteson

Research

Materials and methods:

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.

 

Research results and discussion:

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.

 

Participation Summary
8 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

95 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
8 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
5 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Tours
8 Webinars / talks / presentations
12 Workshop field days
8 Monthly virtual meetings of the Governors Drought and Water supply committee. April- November of 2020. Soil moisture and weather data from the Montana Mesonet was shared and used by the D&WSC to help determine drought conditions in Montana.

April 2020 through November 2020Weekly meeting of drought determination subcommittee of the Montana Drought and water supply committee. Data from Montana mesonet soil moisture stations used weekly to help determine Montana drought status which in turn is sent to the authors of the US drought monitor map.

Participation Summary

330 Farmers
235 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:
 

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.

DATE

PRESENTATION

INSTRUCTION TYPE

EVALUATION SCORE

# OF PARTICIPANTS

October 2016 – Present

Montana Climate Science Team

In order to meet constituent request for information on climate science, MSU Extension has formed a team to discuss and help guide our responses. Based on feedback from Extension Educators across Montana, they wish climate science extension and outreach to be practical, science based, and to focus on adaption and resilience. That is the information our Montana communities want. They aren’t particularly interested in the causes of climate variability, and predictive services, but they are interested in useful and useable information that can help communities make better informed decisions that improve their preparedness for climate related issues in the future. By sticking with this model, progress in extension and outreach related to climate science is slow, but meaningful. Additionally, by working with County Agents and increasing their interest and capacity in regards to climate science adaptation and resiliency, a larger audience will be reached statewide.

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I attend monthly meetings. In 2018 we concentrated on surveying Extension Agents across the state

We formed issue teams to address the Extension Agent requests for practical science based programs and results. I am chair of the forage team.

This is a summary of what the Montana Mesonet director says of working with me. Related to the development applications of data generated through the Montana Mesonet, I have worked with Lee to build out foundations for a forage production prediction module. This effort builds off work initiated by Lee and responds to an identified priority for decision support tools for ranchers and rangeland management. The success of our work in the Montana Climate Office depends upon collaborations such as development of this tool to meet critical management needs.

2019 We worked on developing the climate dashboard at the Montana Mesonet.

January 1, 2018 – December 30, 2018

Weather phenomena can be sudden and violent.  Drought, although less dramatic, can cause even more damage.  From 1997 to 2006, Montana was in a dramatic drought. In Stillwater County, there were 12 years of declining precipitation totals. The effects of this drought had an enormous impact on Stillwater County. While not as long, recent droughts have also affected Stillwater County.

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.

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.

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Real-time drought monitoring is essential for adaptive management to mitigate the negative impacts of drought on the people, economy, and ecosystems of Montana. Cumulative rainfall data alone is a poor predictor of drought impacts.  Short-term soil moisture deficits can occur in years of average or above average rainfall. Resource managers need reliable information on the available reserves of soil moisture to enable effective management (e.g. crop marketing contracts, cattle stocking rates, hay purchases, fertilizer rate adjustments).

To obtain the desired information, weather stations (see picture below) were installed to measure soil moisture and temperature.  With a grant Secured by Stillwater County Extension from Western SARE and the support of the Stillwater County Commission, a total of 8 stations were installed in Stillwater County.  A full suite of current weather conditions as well as soil moisture and temperature at four depths are transmitted instantaneously from the sites to the Montana Mesonet. A partnership valued by both sides has been formed between Stillwater County Extension and the newly formed Montana Mesonet.

It is really exciting and payoff for a lot of year’s hard work that Montanans first early drought warning tool that integrates sensor outputs and site-specific soil properties was released in November 2018. Please view it at this link http://climate.umt.edu/mesonet/

 

anuary 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

During 2019 and 2020, Stillwater County Extension will be developing additional tools that use the soil moisture and weather information to help farmers and ranchers make critical decisions.

 

As reported by the director of the Montana Mesonet. Lee consistently provides the essential, grounded connections between basic and applied science and the needs of the citizens we serve. He works seamlessly across a range of producers, managers, and academics. It is both personally and professionally rewarding to work with him. His partnership sets a model for growing partnerships throughout the state, and substantially contributed to our success during 2019.

November 7, 2018 – November 9, 2018

Soil Moisture Workshop

The day-long Soil Moisture Education Workshops, supported by a grant from the were held at two locations; Lubrecht Forest on 7 Nov. and at the Stillwater County Fairground in Columbus on 9 Nov. Lee coordinated with me throughout the year to plan and implement all aspects of these events – concept, speakers, program, outreach, and the basic logistics of the events. Lee also served as one of the presenters, relating the theory and technical practices of soil moisture measurement to applied agricultural management needs.

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Participants received updayte on Soil moisture efforts in Montana

The majority of workshop participants reported that they currently used soil moisture information in their decision-making process, with only a few reporting that they either used it minimally or not at all. Out of those that do utilize soil moisture information, most applied it to water management programs related to irrigation timing and as early warning of the onset of drought conditions. Others stated that they incorporated soil moisture information into their cropping decisions, creating forage predictions for livestock grazing, and assessing wildland fire potential. Additional responses included using the information to assist with mine reclamation efforts, as a predictor in research on wildlife forage, and in the fumigation of vertebrate pests. One attendee commented that it would even be valuable to do an overall assessment of users of soil moisture information to foster exchange and collaboration, as a means to look at new ways to develop new interpretive products that could result in other opportunities.

When asked what improvements they would make to soil moisture information, workshop participants responded with a variety of answers. At the Lubrecht event, attendees expressed a desire for the information to be more accessible and more simple to understand while in Columbus participants stated the need for more data, whether through increasing sensor density across the state, developing more localized, finer-resolution data, or adding new ports into data loggers (such as a camera, ultrasonic snow-depth sensor, real-time in situ data, and calibration of satellite metrics for extrapolation). Creating tools and strategies from soil moisture information was highlighted at both workshops, with given examples including: 1) predictions and advice for farmers, 2) simple graphs related to rain and irrigation, 3) smart phone applications, 4) a forage production engine, 5) calculation of evapotranspiration, 6) in-situ water potential, 7) a focus on constraining probabilities versus just accuracy, and 8) the various tools demonstrated that were developed and offered by the Oklahoma Mesonet.

Workshop participants listed a wide range of resolutions from feet to landscape scales, which would be best for soil moisture measurement. At both locations participants said that having soil moisture information at the field scale would be most useful in their decision-making processes. Attendees at Lubrecht also listed having information at all scales as an ideal resolution for the information. When asked how often and when soil moisture information is most important to have, participants at Lubrecht and Columbus again came up with the same answer. The growing season was listed most often as the ideal time, starting in the spring (March to May) and ending in the fall (September or October). One individual in Columbus noted that having information available during December and January would also be beneficial, as this time of year is a key planning period for dryland agricultural producers who need to know who much water they have, how deep it is in the soil profile, and consequently what crops they should plant in the coming year. An online, website-based platform was stated as the preferred means of accessing soil moisture information at both workshop locations. Participants noted that a website should: 1) be easy to use, 2) give individuals the ability to access reports and maps containing soil moisture information, 3) have tutorials on how and why to use soil moisture information, and 4) contain a list of resources where individuals can find Montana-specific information. Additional means of accessing information brought up in the workshops included by phone, such as through an “app” or text alerts, via email, and through in-person interactions between on-the-ground individuals and researchers to “keep it real.”

When asked what the next steps to take with soil moisture education should be, attendees at both workshops stated that hosting more educational events (like workshops, field days, and hands-on demonstrations) would be important. Individuals at Lubrecht believed helping the user-base understand the importance and value of soil moisture information was necessary, and individuals in Columbus focused on continued networking, specifically by involving more producers. Other participants noted that the general public should be more involved with soil moisture education, especially through groups like students and citizen scientists. Some also expressed a desire for case studies to be conducted on soil moisture that illustrate how it relates to improved management and the economic benefits of having soil moisture information. Workshop participants in Columbus also stated that organizers should continue to network when asked about next steps for soil moisture monitoring in Montana, again with a focus on involving more producers as well as individuals who could assist with costs and maintenance (like a Big Sky Watershed Corps member) as well as expanding partnerships to ensure funding into the future. At both locations respondents listed increasing the network density of soil moisture monitoring stations as a beneficial next step for monitoring efforts and that, in addition to expanding the network, other forms of data (like remote-sensing data) should be incorporated into this network. Finally, there was an overall consensus that improving the accessibility of data and the understanding of its applicability in management decisions would be an important next step.

Despite the understood importance of sensors and data loggers in providing soil moisture data, multiple comments were made about not downplaying the importance of more traditional means of monitoring soil moisture, like the Paul Brown probe. Although not as accurate as a Mesonet station, these instruments were highlighted by attendees as another viable option because of their ease of use, ability to sample many points, and quick feedback to the user. Multiple questions were also asked about how the installation of a Mesonet station impacted the soil sensors, due to the disturbance of the soil when creating the sensor pit.

Evaluation of the Soil Moisture Education Workshops

Overall we believe these workshops were highly successful. Attendance levels exceeded our expectations, especially given a winter storm and impaired driving conditions on the November 7th meeting at Lubrecht. Participants actively provided substantive questions and feedback during the workshops sessions. Feedback during and following the workshops provided valuable suggestions to guide future development and applications of soil moisture information. Participants indicated strong support for instructional content and integration, and the learning format.

October 11, 2018

The Montana Mesonet

Carbon, Stillwater, Yellowstone, Musselshel, Sweetgrass Counties

Invited Mesonet presentation

Weather phenomena can be sudden and violent.  Drought, although less dramatic, can cause even more damage.  From 1997 to 2006, Montana was in a dramatic drought. In Stillwater County, there were 12 years of declining precipitation totals. The effects of this drought had an enormous impact on Stillwater County. While not as long, recent droughts have also affected Stillwater County.

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.

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This need can be met by building upon the existing capabilities of the Montana Mesonet. This monitoring system will provide resource managers with reliable information on the remaining reserves of plant available water enabling them to adapt their management strategies. By knowing early that plant available water is approaching critical minimum values, ranchers, facing the potential for reduced pasture, could make early arrangements to purchase hay or could sell cattle early, when prices are more favorable. Further, government agencies gain a clearer picture of the extent and distribution of drought effects in the state and could target relief efforts more effectively and use the information to refine drought maps.

Resulted in Carbon County  installing a systems in their counties.

September 11, 2018 – September 14, 2018

Northern Plains Climate Hub Regional Meeting

Asked to represent Montana at the Northern plains climate hub regional meeting in Rapid City South Dakota.

Retreat Goals & Objectives

Goal. To foster engagement and collaboration across Cooperative Extension

programs at the six 1862 land grant universities, in partnership with the USDA

Northern Plains Climate Hub (NPCH).

Objective. To share and celebrate recent successes of the NPCH Extension and

Outreach (E&O) team and explore future collaborative opportunities.

Objective. To provide a professional development opportunity for E&O team

members regarding pre and post-wildfire management under current and future

climatic conditions in the Northern Plains region.

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Shared accomplishments of MSU extension with Extension Representatives and Directors from South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska.

Networking with others in Extension and universities was extremely valuable. New Collaborations were made and old affirmed which will lead to more products and services for our extension clients.

June 12, 2018 – June 13, 2018

Montana Soil moisture

Montana Farm Bureau held it’s Summer Conference June 12-14 at Fairmont Hot Springs and we’d like one of our workshop slot to be an MSU Extension Roundup with presentations on new research or technologies or applications that Extension has developed or is working on for farmers and ranchers.

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Soil Moisture Network and Tools by Lee Schmelzer, Stillwater County Extension Agent (lees@montana.edu; (406) 322-8035)

This is a collaborative effort to develop a statewide network of meteorological and soil moisture sensors and accompanying new tools which will help farmers and ranchers manage drought and make pasture and range management decisions based on local weather and soil moisture.

May 25, 2018

The Montana Mesonet

Beaverhead County

Invited to present a segment on soil moisture importance and explanation of the Montana Mesonet to the Montana Association of County Agriculture Agents.

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. While drought monitoring is critical to Montana’s resource managers, it is hampered by a lack of data on a crucial drought indicator: plant available water, the amount of soil moisture currently in the profile which is available for plant uptake.

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This need can be met by building upon the existing capabilities of the Montana Mesonet. This monitoring system will provide resource managers with reliable information on the remaining reserves of plant available water enabling them to adapt their management strategies. By knowing early that plant available water is approaching critical minimum values, ranchers, facing the potential for reduced pasture, could make early arrangements to purchase hay or could sell cattle early, when prices are more favorable. Further, government agencies gain a clearer picture of the extent and distribution of drought effects in the state and could target relief efforts more effectively and use the information to refine drought maps.

Resulted in 4 counties installing systems in their counties.

May 16, 2018

Soil Moisture presentation

Carbon County

Invited Mesonet presentation

Weather phenomena can be sudden and violent.  Drought, although less dramatic, can cause even more damage.  From 1997 to 2006, Montana was in a dramatic drought. In Stillwater County, there were 12 years of declining precipitation totals. The effects of this drought had an enormous impact on Stillwater County. While not as long, recent droughts have also affected Stillwater County.

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.

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Yellowstone  County Conservation Districted hosted 1 mesonet station adn requested another 2 pending funding.

Central and Eastern agents were provided professional development and networking time.

April 4, 2018

Montana Climate Assessment Workshop

Stillwater County

The findings of the Montana climate assessment were presented to Stillwater county. I was invited to share what the climate science team at MSU Extension is doing and the Montana Mesonet in Stillwater county.

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dELIVERED 20 MINUTES INVITED SORKSHOP ON CLIMATE WORK BEING DONE IN STILLWATER COUNTY

January 23, 2018 – January 24, 2018

Drought Resilient Ranching

Golden Valley County

Invited to Present mesonet information  to producers in clyde park and two dot

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36 ranchers in Clye park and Two Dot

Early Warning Drought tools Helpful………………… 81.6%

Predicting range growth early in season……………. 82.9%

Knowing soil moisture and soil temperature ……….. 88.6%

Having soil moisture trend data to share …………… 100%

Schmelzer, “Bozeman High School Earth week- Climate Science and the Montana Mesonet”, Gallatin County, External to Montana State University, 400 participants, April 23rd & 24th Earth Days  at Bozeman High School during Earth Week. I am on to help teaching 2 days of 400 Bozeman High School Biology students. April 23, 2019 – April 24, 2019

Schmelzer, “Ensuring the Strength of Montana’s Agricultural Economy: Responding to Climate Variability”, Wheeler Center This conference, produced in cooperation with the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and Montana Grain Growers Association, i, External to Montana State University, 65 participants, Invited speaker at a conference hosted by
While agricultural producers in Montana have always faced extreme weather conditions, the severity and variability of those conditions has been increasing. At the same time that February of 2019 ranked as one coldest and snowiest on record, average summer temperatures have been rising over the last 60 years and spring runoff has both declined and happened early over that same period of time. In the span of one or two seasons, producers in different parts of the state have experienced cycles of both drought and flooding. The extent and pace of this variability serves to make an already challenging environment for producers even more difficult.

 October 2, 2019 – October 3, 2019

Actual Measured Quantitive and/or Qualitative Impacts:

With relationships which include county commissioners, Extension Agents, Conservations Districts, and local landowners the first subnetwork of Mesonet stations fully supported by local government and private citizens has been installed. With the help of a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grant (WSARE) initiated by Stillwater County Extenson and the MSU Extension Climate Science team, 10 stations in Stillwater and the surrounding counties have been installed. A full suite of current weather conditions as well as soil moisture and temperature at four depths are transmitted directly from the sites to the Montana Mesonet. A partnership valued by both sides has been formed between MSU Extension and the recently formed Montana Mesonet. ( http://climate.umt.edu/mesonet/default.php ). The Montana Mesonet has installed 46 additional stations. Now that Montana Mesonet has been established and is sustainable and growing, the really exciting value of the project will start to be realized. During the next few years, MSU Extension and the Montana Climate Office will be developing user-guided applications and web-interfaced tools that use the soil moisture and weather information to help farmers, ranchers, and other resource managers make critical decisions. In fact, Montana’s first early drought warning tool that integrates sensor outputs and site-specific soil moisture measurements was released in November 2018 ( http://climate.umt.edu/mesonet/ ). This monitoring system will provide resource managers with reliable information on remaining reserves of plant available water enabling them to adapt their management strategies. Knowing early that plant available water is approaching critical minimum values; ranchers could make early arrangements to purchase hay or move or sell cattle early, when prices are more favorable. Further, government agencies gain a clearer picture of the extent and distribution of drought effects in the state and could target relief efforts more effectively and use the information to refine drought maps used to determine drought status. In my other teaching segment I outline and discuss a series of workshops, educational events and programs that are the bulk of the work in this engagement plan. From the Director of the Montana Climate Office “I want to thank Kevin Hyde (MCO – MT Mesonet Coordinator) and Brett Heitshusen (MT Department of Agriculture) for the build out of this network. Since 2016 the network has gone from 6 to 79 stations due to their super human efforts. MCO’s Zach Hoylman and Kyle Bocinsky also deserve mention for developing this web application and a new database to support the mesonet. DOI BLM, the MT Department of Agriculture, NOAA NIDIS, MSU Extension (Lee Schmelzer, Stillwater County), the Institute on Ecosystems (Bruce Maxwell – MSU) and the National Mesonet Program have all provided much support for the continued operation and maintenance of the Mesonet. Finally, thank you to everyone who has participated in this collaborative partnership, planning and growth of the mesonet.”

Montana Range Tour Septemmber 4-5 2019

How to access and use realtime and forecasted data from the Montana Mesonet.,

75 producers learned how to access the data from the Montana Mesonet and the agriculture tools that will be developed in the next two years.

2 more mesonet stations established in Sweetgrass county Montana a during 2020. Bringing the total stations established by this project to 10 of the 56 total.

All data collected from the Montan a Mesonet was made public in 2020.

The user interface for the Montana mesonet was completely retooled to make it more user friendly and provide more needed information based off feedback from end users. Montana Mesonet Data Dashboard (beta), beta

A quote from a county resident sums up one goal we have for the project. :The importance of user-friendly access to these data was illustrated by one participant: “I grew up ranching, but we just bought a place. We’re essentially starting over somewhere different, and the ecological and weather patterns are so different.” Ranchers are often aware of emerging regional drought conditions, but localized data could better inform their ranch-level drought decisions. They noted that localized data could assist government agencies in making timely and spatially relevant designations for federal emergency drought assistance.

New USGS 10 meter mesonet  tower to be placed in Stillwater county as a part of ongoing mesonet development and federal funding due to the severe Missouri river flooding in the past. Sweetgrass and Stillwater will have one of the first placed in the state.

Learning Outcomes

356 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • • 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.

Project Outcomes

86 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
3 Grants received that built upon this project
16 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

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 ten of the ten stations planned by the end of 2019.  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, Carbon Conservation District, Stillwater and Carbon County Commission.

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.

 

With relationships which include county commissioners, Extension Agents, Conservations Districts, and local landowners, the first subnetwork of Mesonet stations fully supported by local government and private citizens has been installed. With the help of a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grant (WSARE) initiated by Stillwater County Extension and the MSU Extension Climate Science team, 10 stations in Stillwater and the surrounding counties have been installed.  A full suite of current weather conditions as well as soil moisture and temperature at four depths are transmitted directly from the sites to the Montana Mesonet. A partnership valued by both sides has been formed between MSU Extension and the recently formed Montana Mesonet. ( http://climate.umt.edu/mesonet/default.php ). The Montana Mesonet has installed 46 additional stations.

Now that Montana Mesonet has been established and is sustainable and growing, the really exciting value of the project will start to be realized. During the next few years, MSU Extension and the Montana Climate Office will be developing user-guided applications and web-interfaced tools that use the soil moisture and weather information to help farmers, ranchers, and other resource managers make critical decisions.  In fact, Montana’s first early drought warning tool that integrates sensor outputs and site-specific soil moisture measurements was released in November 2018 ( http://climate.umt.edu/mesonet/ ). This monitoring system will provide resource managers with reliable information on remaining reserves of plant available water enabling them to adapt their management strategies. Knowing early that plant available water is approaching critical minimum values; ranchers could make early arrangements to purchase hay or move or sell cattle early, when prices are more favorable. Further, government agencies gain a clearer picture of the extent and distribution of drought effects in the state and could target relief efforts more effectively and use the information to refine drought maps used to determine drought status. Agriculture is such a large Montana industry that any increase in efficiency from more accurate weather and soil moisture information can translate into several million dollars in statewide savings each year.

From the director of the Montanan Climate Office.

The Montana Climate Office is excited to announce the development and release of a new website for the Montana Mesonet.

https://mco.cfc.umt.edu/mesonet_data/station_page/arskeogh.html

 

This new site provides tabular and graphical displays of data from each mesonet station over a two week time period. You can zoom into time periods of interest and print these graphs for redistribution. On the left hand side there are a host of options based upon the National Weather Services weather and forecast. As you move from station to station (upper right hand map) the local weather and forecast are displayed for each site. Importantly, you can access local satellite, radar, the forecast discussion, and flood warnings for nearby surface waters.

I want to thank Kevin Hyde (MCO – MT Mesonet Coordinator) and Brett Heitshusen (MT Department of Agriculture) for the build out of this network. Since 2016 the network has gone from 6 to 79 stations due to their super human efforts. MCO’s Zach Hoylman and Kyle Bocinsky also deserve mention for developing this web application and a new database to support the mesonet. DOI BLM, the MT Department of Agriculture, NOAA NIDIS, MSU Extension (Lee Schmelzer, Stillwater County), the Institute on Ecosystems (Bruce Maxwell – MSU) and the National Mesonet Program have all provided much support for the continued operation and maintenance of the Mesonet. Finally, thank you to everyone who has participated in this collaborative partnership, planning and growth of the mesonet.

In the next year we hope to begin web development of agriculture, natural resource (e.g. rangeland) and water management indices in support of decision making. We are looking for suggestions on those that might be most appropriate for our initial focus. Examples include reference evapotranspiration, irrigation and spraying tools, cattle comfort indices, inversion monitoring, growing degree days, etc. etc.

 

Success stories:

Partnerships are the key. With relationships which include county commissioners, Extension Agents, Conservations Districts, and local landowners, the first subnetwork of Mesonet stations fully supported by local government and private citizens has been installed. With the help of a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grant (WSARE) initiated by Stillwater County Extension and the MSU Extension Climate Science team, 10 stations in Stillwater and the surrounding counties have been installed.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.