New web-based tool helps farmers plant veggies at just the right time

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- 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. It is being developed by Nick Andrews, Len Coop and others in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The conventional tools for scheduling planting and harvest, explained Andrews, are a calendar and estimated days to maturity, usually gleaned from a seed catalog. However, temperature and weather conditions can alter these estimates, especially in an uncharacteristically warm or cool year.

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

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 it can help minimize pest damage at stages during the growing season when crops are most vulnerable.

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.

Right now Croptime can calculate time-to-harvest for four broccoli and seven cucumber varieties. Croptime can also predict when three important weeds (redroot pigweed, lambsquarter and hairy nightshade) are likely to go to seed and spread.

Andrews is an Extension agent serving small-scale growers in Oregon’s north Willamette Valley and developer of a new statewide Extension program devoted to organic farming. Coop is associate director of OSU’s IPM Center.

Croptime was built on the backbone of an earlier pest-management modeling tool called USPest, developed by Coop and hosted at the OSU IPM Center. USPest uses insect and disease models and is widely used by orchardists.

The Croptime project is supported by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (Western SARE) and Oregon Tilth. USPest is supported by the Western Integrated Pest Management Center.

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