By Michael Pollitt Agricultural editor
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Norwich-based Weatherquest is playing a vital role in helping to feed the nation after teaming up with researchers at the UEA.
The independent forecasting service, which is based at University of East Anglia, is now working with research scientists at the John Innes Centre to help farmers grow better brassica crops including cauliflowers.
It has collected data on weather patterns, which crop genetics researcher Judith Irwin is using as part of a project to improve resilience within the horticultural industry.
While she is looking at how crops adapt to climate change, plant science can help to build resistance to temperature variations.
“For brassicas such as cauliflower and broccoli we eat the flower buds of the plant and they require a period of cold known as vernalisation to trigger the flowering mechanism. This varies between species and by examining the temperatures required by different varieties to vernalise, you can select those that need different periods of cold to flower,” said Dr Irwin.
Comparison of average winter temperatures between 1961 and 2006 showed that Cornwall was 2C warmer than Lincolnshire, which influences the maturity of some brassica varieties. So, growers can select varieties which vernalise at different temperatures.
Weatherquest was launched by a team of experienced forecasters when the Norwich Weather Centre closed in 2000. The team saw an opportunity for a consultancy service and with their links to the UEA’s environ-mental sciences department have incorporated the latest research into their weather predictions.
Jim Bacon, managing director, said: “We give accurate and detailed weather information which is simply not available elsewhere.
“Most industrial practices are weather dependent, and often the weather forecasts on the TV are not detailed enough to make business decisions, so we fine-tune this service based on our individual client’s needs.
“One of my colleagues, Steve Dorling, was himself based at UEA on the Norwich Research Park.
“So setting up business on the research park seemed a natural location, it is well known for its ground-breaking research and expertise, so we felt it was a good environment to be a part of.”
While farmers rely on their forecasts, it also helps other sectors involved with shipping and transportation.
“For example, one of our clients is the Port of Felixstowe. For them, wind and visibility information is vital.
“Ships are unable to enter or leave the docks if the wind is too high or visibility too low. Likewise, cranes are unable to unload cargo, such as food, off the ships if the weather conditions are not just right,” said Mr Bacon.
For a personal weather forecast, call Weatherquest on 09065 77 76 75 (Calls charged at £1.50 per minute).