When National Weather Service funding for ag weather forecasts dried up two years ago, many hay growers were forced to find alternate ways of getting the same or better information.

Bill Wilson, who retails 100 acres of hay from his farm near Little River, TX, was one of them.

Besides the government report, he regularly watched six local TV weather reports and a cable weather channel.

He is still wearing out his remote switching to all those TV reports. But he also pays $25 per month to get seven-day forecasts off the Internet from a commercial weather service, called Agricultural Weather Information Service (AWIS), Auburn, AL.

"A 48-hour forecast is about all that's any good from forecasters around here," Wilson comments. "But I was hoping that AWIS would be able to stretch it out at least twice that far."

AWIS forecasts are most accurate the first three days of a seven-day report, he says.

"The ability to forecast out to where you can lay your hay on the ground where it'll be dry all the way up to the time to bale - it's not here yet," he laments.

This has been a difficult year to decide if paying for a weather service is worth it. Wilson's area has received little rain since March 15.

He plans to keep the service until the end of October, when he's done baling. Then he'll resubscribe next March or April.

"It's an inexact science; you do the best you can," he adds.

AWIS data includes dew dry-off time, minimum relative humidity, and seven-day temperature and rain probability forecasts delivered by fax, email or over its Web site, says Ellen Bauske, vice president for marketing.

Its prices range from $24.95 to $50 per month for a three-month-minimum service. The two-year-old AWIS, which also provides DTN some of its weather data, has mostly served the South. However, it's working to capture Midwestern business as well, Bauske says. Its Internet address is www.awis.com or call 334-826-2149.

Wilson notes that he got his AWIS seven-day forecast, which also gives a 14-day free trial, through Gempler's. Call 800-382-8473.

Another Internet subscription service, called Personal AccuWeather, also offers growers their own free basic weather page for a specific site.

Based in State College, PA, the company charges $4.95/month or $39.95/year for detailed reports.

"This service is far more valuable than what growers can get by watching the Weather Channel or DTN," says Joel Myers, company president and founder. "We have devised a system able to pinpoint within one mile anywhere on earth what the weather is and will be for the next 10 days, hour by hour."

Updated continuously, the reports include temperature, humidity, wind speed, sky cover, precipitation type and amount, and wind chill data.

"They can get the most current Doppler radar image available anywhere," Myers claims. "When you turn on the Weather Channel, or view other Internet sites, you're looking at a radar that may be 5 to 25 minutes old. Here it's right up to the minute."

AccuWeather also offers local radar information and severe weather watches, warnings and advisories. It gives satellite imagery and forecasts for anywhere in the world, Myers says.

Clients include over 400 newspapers, 290 radio stations, 250 TV stations and over 1,000 Web sites, including CNN Interactive, the Associated Press, PointCast, WebTV and CNET

Check out its Web site at personal.accuweather.com or try a free, 30-day trial by calling 800-566-6606.

Growers who can't justify paying for weather forecasts can tune into radio reports tailored to agriculture. For example, the DayWeather Program is carried by 42 radio stations in the West.

"We include, not only forecasts, but also key agricultural information, such as growing degree days, soil temperature, dangerous livestock conditions, etc.," says Don Day Sr. He's a vice president at DayWeather, Inc., Cheyenne, WY.

The company tailors two to three broadcasts separately for each region it covers, says Day.

"We had a call from a farmer asking when we were going to start airing the crop water usage reports because he depends on that kind of information when he hears it on the weather program to properly irrigate his crops."

Any grower interested in talking with the company about a specific weather service contract is welcome to call: 800-584-9331. Its Web site: www.Dayweather. com