Crop information flows online
Website provides wealth of data for researchers, farmers
By STEVE BROWN
About 300 crops are grown commercially in Washington state, but there is no one single source of information on them.
Now the Washington State Department of Agriculture offers tools on its website that make crop location information more accessible to farmers, agencies, ag groups and the public.
Perry Beale, senior crop mapping specialist, is the main developer of the WSDA's website tool.
"You can use the map to get a visual picture and download the data behind the map such as the section level data, county data and statewide data," he said. "Having the information available can help the producer manage his workload and know surface and groundwater issues."
The mapping effort started with a focus on the impact of agricultural chemicals on natural resources.
"It's better to use real data than to use models," Beale said. "If you know what crops are out there, then you can put a location where a pesticide is being used."
From the website, users can download a map, connect to an online crop locator or download geographic information system, or GIS, data.
Each tool is different.
"The online map is more the big picture," Beale said. "You can the download GIS data to mine down deeper. We don't want to display every single crop, because the industry wanted to keep some anonymity."
Whatever crop covers the most acreage is listed as the section's use. The maps label berries, cereal grains, commercial trees, Conservation Reserve Program land, developed land, fallow land, flower bulbs, green manure, hay and silage, herbs, nursery, oilseeds, orchards, pasture, research, seed, shellfish, turfgrass, unknown, vegetables, vineyards, and wildlife feed.
Beale said much of the feedback he gets is "Oh, wow! There's a lot of information on there."
The staff at the Natural Resources Assessment Section includes a hydrogeologist, environmental toxicologist and specialists in crop and pesticide use, crop mapping and groundwater -- "a grand total of four of us," Beale said.
Staffers conduct specifically targeted fieldwork combined with knowledge of agricultural practices and crop identification skills. Using a GPS-equipped vehicle and a laptop computer, the specialists gather data to inventory acreage in crop production. That information will be updated every spring.
For information, go to agr.wa.gov and click on Agriculture in WA; Maps; and Land Use. This page links to a PDF map, to an online crop locator and to GIS data, which requires free software to use.