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Front Porch Farm: Small or Large, There’s a Davis System for Every Farm

Front Porch Farm: Small or Large, There’s a Davis System for Every Farm

While all farmers need weather and environmental data to make growing decisions, how much and from what sensors varies from farm to farm. That’s why Davis offers a range of weather sensing systems including the ag-focused EnviroMonitor system. But sometimes smaller farms can depend on just a single Vantage Pro2 to tell them what they need to know.

Front Porch Farm in Addy, Washington is just such a farm.  Farmer Merritt Acheson credits his Vantage Pro2 with helping him successfully grow his farmers-market-bound vegetables in a unique micro-climate.

Front Porch Farm makes up the home and livelihood of three families. Photo courtesy of Hannah Acheson Photography and Front Porch Farm, used with permission.

The 240-acre family farm was purchased by Merritt’s dad, Dee, in 1999. It now supports three families, including Merritt’s and his sister Megan’s, as well as his parents. They use organic practices to grow vegetables on about five acres and use the rest to raise grass-fed beef and hay. Their fresh fruit and vegetables have earned a strong fan-following at the local farmer markets over the last 18 years. Locals also can pick up fresh produce, honey, antiques, and gifts at their store, Front Porch Antiques and Produce. Front Porch Farm is an active and important part of their community.

Addy, in Eastern Washington, is not the easiest place to grow vegetables. The first obstacle is the short growing season with only about 120 days between frosts. They start with the cool weather crops (brassicas, lettuce, spinach, kale, beets) then move on to potatoes, squash, onions, apples, melons, peas, tomatoes, peppers, onions and more. 

Merritt Acheson shows off some nice big Front Porch Farm lettuce at the local farmers market. Photo courtesy of Hannah Acheson Photography and Front Porch Farm, used with permission.

“We have to extend our growing season,” Merritt told us. “We start early by planting seeds inside, then hardening seedlings in greenhouses. When we plant the seedlings outside, we use black plastic mulch that raises the soil temperature, and we cover the young plants.”

Young plants are hardened in the greenhouse to extend the short Washington growing season. Photo courtesy of Hannah Acheson Photography and Front Porch Farm, used with permission.

Once plants are outside, the team must be hyper-aware of frost threat, and has to be ready to act fast to prevent damage from frost.

“When it is cold here in Stevens County,” Merritt said, “it’s even colder on our farm. We are in a low spot and the cold air settles here. And it’s even colder in our garden. We see a big difference in the temperature even between our homes on the farm and the garden.”

It was clear that what the team needed was real-time data from their rows of young plants.

Installation day for the Front Porch Farm Vantage Pro2. Photo courtesy of Hannah Acheson Photography and Front Porch Farm, used with permission.

Merritt told us, “We needed something that would give us real-time data, especially temperature/humidity and dew point, without a monthly charge for satellite communications. We need to track rainfall and wind speed too, which really affects spraying.

“So we talked to the folks at Davis Instruments and chose a Vantage Pro2.”

Merritt and team installed the station where the weather happens. They’ve utilized the Vantage Pro2’s advantage of allowing the anemometer to be mounted up high, while the temp/hum and rain sensors are closer to the ground, where the plants are. Data is sent via repeaters to a WeatherLink Live and the consoles in their homes. This lets them set frost alerts so they can know about frost threats in time to take action.

Merritt and team installed where the weather happens, in the garden, and use repeaters to send the data to their WeatherLink Live. Photo courtesy of Hannah Acheson Photography and Front Porch Farm, used with permission.

“If I get a frost alert at 6 a.m., that’s not too big of deal. But if it’s 3 a.m., I need to know!” Merritt said. “The Vantage Pro2 has helped a lot. We use it to track lows and alert us at 34°F [1°C] with text and email so we can get out there and cover plants.”

After the short growing season and the frost issues, Merritt has to contend with the fact that cold early in the season does not mean cool summer days will follow. At Front Porch Farm, the Vantage Pro2 reports some large temperature swings over the course of the year.

“According to WeatherLink, our high for last year was 110°F [43°C] and the low was -14°F [-26°C]. More than 120 degrees different!” Merritt said.

 
Temperature swings are part of the Eastern Washington weather scene.

Although they don’t usually get many very hot days (but don’t ask about 2021!), and when they do, nights almost always cool down to the 70s [low 20s, C], the long days of summer can make the hot days into an even bigger problem.

“Last year on May 15 we had a hard frost, one month later it was 100°F [38°C]. It’s hard for plants to adapt when it is 110° for 6 hours – we have long days, like  4 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. in June and July. So it’s not just hot, but it’s six or seven hours of hot,” Merritt explained.

Summer 2021 was an anomaly for all of Washington, with high heat records shattered all over the state. Front Porch Farm had such high heat that Merritt is still seeing the stress on the trees.

 “Even mature trees had brown leaves. We’ll lose some trees in the future because they were so stressed by the heat.”

Summer heat brings us to the last of the yearly weather-related farm decisions: irrigation. The Vantage Pro2 helps inform irrigation decisions by tracking rainfall.

“You don’t think of Washington as being dry, but it is fairly dry here,” said Merritt. “We get 16" to 18" [40 to 46 mm] a year. Last summer was especially dry. We irrigate with water from the Colville River and some farmers were told last summer to turn off the water. Last summer, we could not apply enough water.”

Last year there was an added weather-related concern: smoke. While the smoke from a series of wildfires to the west of Addy did not harm the vegetables and fruits, it did cause problems for their hay production.

“We had several nice warm days, 90° or 95° [32° – 35°C], with good 15 mph [24kph] wind -- what looks like prefect hay drying weather,” Merritt remembers. “But because of the smoke blocking the sunlight, the hay would just not dry. I learned that on days like that, if I could not delay cutting, I would have to cut for silage and not even try to dry it.”

Front Porch Farm is a family and community treasure, one of many across the world, that provides fresh, local produce to families nearby. Merritt, and all small farm growers, will survive and thrive only by working with the conditions their region offers. Whether it is frost, growing season issues, high heat, limited irrigation water, or even smoke, every farmer is forced to take what Mother Nature provides when it comes to weather. Vantage Pro2 or a Davis EnviroMonitor system can help farmers with any size farm do just that.

HOW CAN ENVIROMONITOR AND VANTAGE PRO2 HELP YOU MAKE DATA-DRIVEN DECISIONS TO INCREASE YIELD WHILE REDUCING WASTE AT YOUR FARM?

Click here to set up a free consultation with an agricultural specialist.

Click here to learn more about our EniviroMonitor system.

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