Lettuce growers in California’s agriculturally rich Salinas Valley have a new web-based tool called CropManage which can help save vegetable growers’ money and protect drinking water sources from nitrate contamination.

CropManage is a web-based tool to help growers better manage nitrogen and water use on crops. This is particularly important in the lettuce industry as precise nitrogen applications are vital to a marketable crop.

The tool is the brainchild of Michael Cahn, irrigation and water resources advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

The technology uses weather information gathered by the California Irrigation Management and Information System (CIMIS); a state program which manages a network of more than 120 automated weather stations in California.

CIMIS was developed in 1982 by the California Department of Water Resources and the University of California, Davis to help growers manage water resources more efficiently.

Cahn says the CIMIS information is coupled with data from nitrogen quick tests, soil samples growers take in fields to determine soil nitrate levels.

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“Water and nitrogen management decisions require specific calculations that can be automated in CropManage which would be too difficult for a busy farm manager with many fields to track on their own,” Cahn said.

This is where the website comes in handy. The technology uses intricate algorithms to calculate information that the grower can use, including water needs and crop-specific soil nitrogen requirements.

Cahn is currently field testing the web program with growers. So far the findings are positive.