OSU's Croptime helps farmers plant veggies at the right time

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Nick Andrews heads OSU Extension's statewide organic farming program. Photo by Tiffany Woods

OSU’s Croptime helps farmers plant veggies at just the right time

Well-timed harvests enable growers to meet demand for consistent supplies of produce. Good timing also helps farmers schedule labor when they need it, and can help minimize pest damage at stages during the growing season when crops are most vulnerable.

Growers normally schedule planting and harvests using a calendar and the crop’s estimated days to maturity from seed catalogs. However, temperature and weather conditions can alter these estimates, especially in an uncharacteristically warm or cool year.

Now a team at Oregon State University has built a web-based predictive tool that Willamette Valley vegetable farmers can use to schedule their plantings and harvests for the most favorable times.  

The interactive tool, called Croptime, taps into temperature data and weather and climate forecasts to calculate optimal dates for planting of vegetable crops grown in the valley.

To use Croptime, growers select the weather station nearest their farm, select their crop and variety and choose from a number of different forecasting options. Then they enter up to four prospective planting dates. For each planting date, Croptime predicts key growth stages and harvest maturity date.

Croptime can calculate time-to-harvest for four broccoli, six cucumber and four sweet pepper varieties. It can also predict when three important weeds (redroot pigweed, lambsquarter and hairy nightshade) are likely to go to seed and spread. Croptimes co-developers, Nick Andrews (Organic Extension program), Len Coop (Integrated Plant Protection Center) and their colleagues are in the process of adding at least 30 more vegetable variety models to Croptime.

By enabling growers to identify their optimum planting dates, Croptime promises to take some of the uncertainty out of harvest scheduling, says Andrews. “And that’s important, because accurate timing of harvests is critical to keeping vegetable farmers profitable and sustainable.”

Sources: Nick Andrews, Organic Extension program, OSU Center for Small Farms; Len Coop, Integrated Plant Protection Center

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