New director joins WSU ag weather service

by By Scott Weybright, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
| June 6, 2021 1:00 AM

PULLMAN — Professor Lav Khot was named interim director of Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet with the goal of maintaining the momentum of the system’s growth and increasing public-private partnerships. Khot takes over as director for Dave Brown, who initiated much of the growth.

AgWeatherNet provides weather data and weather-related support tools to improve agricultural production, efficiency and profitability.

“We want to make sure this high-quality data is collected and distributed to grower stakeholders so they can make informed decisions that benefit their operations and the state of Washington,” said Khot, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering and faculty in the Center for Precision & Automated Agricultural Systems (CPAAS).

Better quality weather data will also help AgWeatherNet and other programs in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), such as the Decision Aid Systems, in developing and delivery of stakeholder need-driven decision support tools and harness other opportunities in Digital Ag, Khot added.

“Lav is a fantastic scientist and knows the importance of weather data for Washington farmers,” said André-Denis Wright, dean of CAHNRS. “He will be a great leader to work with industry and researchers to grow this important WSU program.”

Khot has a two-year appointment as interim director. His research and extension program at CPAAS focuses on crop monitoring and management technologies through in-field crop, environmental sensing and automation to help farmers with site-specific and precision management concerns.

“Crops face a wide variety of weather-induced stressors, including spring frost, summer heat and more,” he said. “We have been exploring use of localized weather data to develop new tools to help growers mitigate these stressors.”

AgWeatherNet includes nearly 400 solar-powered weather stations across Washington. More than 100 of those stations are privately owned, and every station feeds real-time data into AgWeatherNet. The system had 175 total stations just three years ago, and those numbers continue to grow.

Khot said his research has focused on developing ground and aerial sensors to help farmers identify heat and cold stress in their crops and identify ways to mitigate those stresses and limit crop losses.

This means getting quality data that researchers and farmers can actually use, he said.

“We’re rapidly expanding the network with the addition of new stations to not only monitor open-field, but also the in-field weather data,” Khot said. “That gives us a better understanding of localized weather and microclimate variations.”

That data includes air and soil temperature, rainfall, wind speed, wind direction and solar radiation.

WSU researchers have been recording weather data daily for more than 100 years.

The first AgWeatherNet station was installed in 1988. Variables are recorded every five seconds and summarized every 15 minutes, providing a running record of weather that affects Washington agriculture.

Khot said that sensors and computer hardware are getting smaller, more energy efficient, more accurate and less expensive, which means that more farmers can buy them and place them in the fields and around their farms.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “I think that data becomes a lot more useful.”

Charles H. Featherstone contributed to this story.