Photo © Biletskiy Evgeniy - Fotolia

Farming is a skill that has been around for centuries. Farmers used the sun and the weather as well as some kind of digging apparatus in the very beginning. But these days, farming has become a pretty sophisticated art.

Good thing, too, as many of the issues farmers face today are attributed to climate change and the rapidly changing weather conditions that can have a big impact on farming.

The USDA's national Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has set out to help farmers get the tools they need to meet the situation. It all starts online. NIFA gave a $5 million Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant in 2011 to Purdue University so they could help farmers make crop-related decisions online.

It resulted in something called the Useful to Useable (U2U) project. It's helping farmers navigate around the weather and make useful decisions.

What's interesting is this science has been done for years with a tractor and some seeds and a great deal of elbow grease. Today the U2U project takes existing weather data and then provides the information in formats that farmers can use to manage their crops. It covers what, where, and when to plant, fertilizing, irrigating and more.

The U2U team consisted of Purdue, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and University of Wisconsin.

A dashboard of tools

Dennis Todey, South Dakota State University’s U2U program director said “The goal of U2U is to develop a dashboard of tools that people can use for decision-making, not only within the season but also when looking ahead at multiple seasons.”

The project uses many web tools one is called the Corn Growing Degree days. If you have ever gardened yourself you know that how fast your plants grow depends on the warmth they receive. The researchers developed a mathematical formula (based on daily temperatures) that determines how many units of heat the corn accumulates over the course of the growing season. Farmers can then use that data to compare how their crops are actually performing and when they my reach maturity compared to if they might freeze.

U2U’s method has proven to be helpful in both food safety and economic growth for farmers.

It's another way the internet has impacted our lives and how it is making farming a science that can be calculated with perhaps a little more accuracy than maybe the Farmers Almanac.

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