Sunny forecast

IBM has developed Deep Thunder, a weather-modeling service that, according to officials with the Armonk, N.Y.-based company, can help farmers dramatically reduce the amount of crops destroyed by weather-related catastrophes, including drought, frost and torrential rains, stabilizing pricing and supply for supermarkets in the process.

For farmers, Deep Thunder can deliver hyper-localized weather predictions up to 36 hours in advance, with calculations as fine as every mile and as granular as every 10 or 15 minutes, with a 90% accuracy. The forecasts can be delivered to a mobile device in the palm of a farmer’s hand allowing him to make very exact decisions. That can allow farmers – as well as parks, golf courses and corporate campuses – to reduce their need for irrigation by turning off the sprinklers when it is raining, for example.

“Water is the most critical resource on the face of the earth and we can no longer waste it,” says Perry Hartswick, distinguished engineer & chief architect, Smarter Water Solutions & Smarter Cities. “How many times have you driven by a golf course and it is pouring rain and the sprinklers are on? How ridiculous is that? How many times are you seeing that people are fertilizing and it rains an hour later, which basically washes it all away? Precision agriculture is one of the ways we can help with the water supply and the food supply by making sure farmers can get every tomato they could possibly get by having information that is analyzed and applied to their business.”

The program can help farmers plan their harvests ahead of inclement weather and help avoid ruin. A frost alert from Deep Thunder can help farmers and retailers move tender bedding plants indoors or cover them to prevent kill, for example. On the supermarket side, Deep Thunder can assist produce buyers and store managers better plan their pricing and specials, IBM officials say.

“If someone had to harvest spinach two days earlier and ship it and by the time it gets to the store it is going to have two days shelf life, if we gave that information to the store managers they might say, ‘I’m going to put this spinach on sale for 50% off so I can move it,’” says Paul Chang, supply chain and Smarter Food Expert at IBM Software Group. “Otherwise 24 hours later you would have to throw it away. We know that 15% of all produce that gets to the retail store is thrown away. These are the kind of things that information technology can help resolve because you can make better business decisions based on the data that you have.”

Lloyd Treinish, environmental science leader, IBM Research says that a more accurate weather forecast will predict actions that a farmer can take to become more efficient. “You can’t just take a big pile of data and throw it at a farmer,” he says. “What you need to do is give them based on their own land and farm and experience, give them their best practices. ‘This is what you should do now.’ ‘This is what you should do an hour from now.’ The whole point of this is not just to create a pile of data that somebody has to weed through, but to create actionable intelligence.”

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