Editor’s note: There’s an outstanding lineup of speakers on tap for the South Dakota Corn Growers Association’s 33rd annual meeting, which will be held Jan. 19, 2019. In our online Emerge newsletter, we will profile one speaker each month. First up is Eric Snodgrass.
Eric Snodgrass became fascinated with weather when he was in college, but he had no idea he would develop such a strong interest in agriculture, too.
That passion took root years later when he was a university professor teaching students about weather and meteorology. In late July 2012, a friend invited him to attend a Farm Bureau meeting and said farmers might have some questions for him. What Snodgrass quickly realized while talking with farmers was that the weather information they were provided wasn’t very beneficial.
“They were pretty well blindsided by the drought that developed in 2012. I was telling them we had signs of this going back to March,” he said. “It wasn’t as though it had blindsided us. I decided I could do a better job of conveying weather than what they were getting.”
That prompted Snodgrass and a colleague to start a company, Global Weather and Climate Logistics LLC, which specializes in providing short-term (1 to 15 days) and seasonal forecasts that affect the agricultural community throughout the growing season. It later merged with Agrible Inc., a precision farm management and predictive analytics company. Snodgrass continues to teach full-time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and runs the company on the side.
“I never would have thought I’d love learning about agriculture as much as I did. If you’d have told me 10 years ago that I’d be doing ag weather, I would have laughed at you. Now I sleep, eat and breathe this stuff,” he said.
Snodgrass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be a featured speaker during the 2019 South Dakota Corn Growers Annual Meeting Jan. 19 in Sioux Falls, and his presentation will be centered on South Dakota agriculture. He refers to South Dakota and North Dakota as “the frontier of the Corn Belt.” Corn and soybean acres have increased enormously.
Those two states are “closest to the danger zone” because of the drier conditions of the High Plains, Snodgrass said. Because the land has to be managed well to produce good yields, the rest of the Corn Belt watches the Dakotas “as kind of a litmus test on how the rest of the season is evolving.” He said crop scouting tours that used to start in Ohio now start in the Dakotas and head east.
Snodgrass noted that successful farming is all about efficiency with a focus on minimizing expenses and maximizing profits. Weather is the highest risk factor. Accurate historical weather information and 40 years of reliable yield data are a key to improving efficiency. Combine precision agriculture with weather data and farmers have a valuable tool.
“How do we use those two things together to minimize $10,000 mistakes? Precision ag without great weather information is missing a pretty substantial component,” he said. “We’re getting better and better tools we can apply to be more predictive. And we have a much, much better archive of historical weather events, so we can now draw conclusions and a correlation between historical and current weather events. The amount of information we collect today is enormous.”
Those tools help develop predictive analytics. A farmer doesn’t want to do an application if it’s going to rain three inches over the next five days or spend money on diesel fuel if the weather isn’t going to cooperate.
Snodgrass says he can provide farmers with information that will help them make informed decisions and become more efficient. Plus, his business and farming have something a lot in common.
“Every day there’s something new. There’s always something to figure out,” he said. “That appeals to my nature.”