What is in this article?:
- Web-based tool helps growers â€˜seeâ€™ nitrogen needs
- Grower's perspective
- Lettuce is king
- Crop Manage is a web-based tool that helps growers manage water and nitrogen needs in lettuce and broccoli.
- University of California researchers plan to add more crops to the database over time.
- Groundwater contamination from fertilizers is a major concern of growers and regulators.
Cooperation between growers and university researchers led to a new online program to better manage water and nitrogen in lettuce. Mark Mason, left, manager of Huntington Farms in Soledad, and UC Davis Irrigation and Water Resources Advisor Michael Cahn, are in one of Huntington Farms’ fields near Salinas.
One operation using CropManage is Huntington Farms which grows 3,200 acres of head and leaf lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, strawberries, and other crops in the Salinas Valley.
“In a nutshell CropManage puts our important data together for us,” says Mark Mason, manager of Huntington Farms in Soledad, Calif. “CropManage allows us to put information on soil samples and water use based on flow meters all in one convenient spot.”
In short, CropManage works like this. After setting up a virtual farm on the website, the grower uploads soil nitrate sample information and selects a nearby CIMIS station to help calculate evaporation rates. The grower then selects the type of crop.
Software algorithms calculate actual water needs based on the stage of the crop, and the amount of nitrogen to apply at the specific plant-growth stage.
Currently, CropManage works with lettuce and broccoli. Cahn plans to add cabbage, cauliflower, and strawberries to the system in the future. Cahn is considering the addition of permanent crops to the program down the road.
“A key purpose is to use nitrogen efficiently,” Cahn said.
Water use is another program component to help growers more efficiently use water. Mason converted some fields from sprinklers to surface-drip irrigation.
A further benefit of surface drip to the region, Cahn says, is the reduction of soil nutrients leaching into the groundwater.
According to Mason, lettuce is a crop which can be unmarketable if too little soil nitrogen is available to the plant. There is an incentive to increase nitrogen fertilizer applications; even at the risk of over application. The dangerous catch is that nitrates not taken up by plants can be leached into the soil, Cahn says.
CropManage works well in farm field management since it provides recommendations to specific soil profiles based on scientific data from the soil tests and CIMIS. According to Cahn, it works much better than a one-size-fits-all approach to soil and crop management.