Monitor and Predict Conditions during Production, Storage, and Transport

Vegetable growers rely on an increasing diversity and quality of information to succeed. This information includes what the temperature, humidity, and other conditions around their crops have been, are, and are likely to be in the near future. Of course, past, current, and future weather conditions are hugely important to all growers. However, conditions in confined spaces at any point during crop production, storage, or transport also influence the farm’s bottom line. This article has three sections. Section 1 highlights grower-friendly pieces of equipment making it easy to monitor and, in some cases, record important conditions in fields, high tunnels, storages, sheds, trailers, vehicles, containers, and other locations nearly anytime. Section 2 references an online source of past growing condition data for various locations in Ohio. Section 3 includes a link to a site offering local forecasts for nearly any location in Ohio and the U.S.

Monitoring. Personal “weather stations” are increasingly reliable, durable, widely available, and lower-cost. Stations are rarely moved and are commonly placed in or near production areas. Stations that fit nearly any budget and interest are available from ag/forestry and other equipment suppliers. Costs hinge on variables monitored (number, frequency), data storage capability, quality of instrumentation, extent and type of connectivity, and expectations for maintenance. Upper-tier stations track and record temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, and rainfall. Simpler systems that monitor temperature and send data by text are popular with some growers (especially ones using high tunnels during spring and fall), or others wanting to monitor conditions in storages, packing sheds, and other areas. Not surprisingly, applications for ultra-small, battery-powered, durable, portable, and relatively inexpensive sensor-datalogger units measuring about 1.5-inch square are also increasing. Growers, distributors, shippers, buyers, and retailers — everyone in vegetable supply chains — look to document conditions surrounding crops or shipments from field to delivery and through display. Crop production researchers have long-used sensor-datalogger units to record temperature and humidity in soils and air in many plots simultaneously. People focused on post-harvest topics, such as conditions affecting crop condition in storage and transit, have done the same. As unit prices drop and questions about crops increase, people in supply chains look to temperature, humidity, and other data for partial answers. Individual sensor-datalogger units take and record readings often (e.g., every five minutes) and store data collected over periods lasting weeks, if needed. Data are downloaded to a laptop or uploaded to a personal website and imported directly to a worksheet.

I am often asked to help determine the cause(s) for various crop defects, all of which have cost the grower real money. More and more of these cases involve defects discovered after harvest, e.g., after delivery or transport. Also, the situations can involve a disagreement between grower and employee, shipper, or buyer, etc. regarding where the problem began. In all cases, some reliable record of the temperature and humidity surrounding the crop from harvest through delivery (and storage on-site, if used) would have helped the diagnostic process. Obtaining those records is easier and less expensive each year. Also, three complex challenges may intensify peoples’ interest in crop monitoring on the farm and past the farm gate: 1) spray drift, 2) maximally effective application of crop protectants, perhaps especially fungicides, and 3) food safety. Regarding weather monitoring and forecasting, personalization of the process has helped fuel https://www.wunderground.com/weatherstation/overview.asp and related groups.

Past Weather/Growing Conditions. The OSU-OARDC manages a set of weather stations (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/weather1/) and daily or hourly data from the stations can be viewed/downloaded soon or long after they were recorded (e.g., http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/weather1/stationinfo.asp?id=12). Like all stations, the OARDC ones provide data specific to their location. So, the data should be used cautiously. Still, the stations provide numbers for important locations over many years.

Weather Forecasts. There is no shortage of weather forecasting services and apps and everyone has their favorite. I have come to appreciate being able to obtain current, multi-variable National Weather Service forecasts for nearly any location in the U.S. quickly and easily. The process outlined at https://www.weather.gov/wrn/hourly-weather-graph requires only a minute and a few mouseclicks or taps on the screen of your mobile device but no downloads. I have bookmarked several locations and can see forecasts for them quickly.

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