by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Barcodes can help vegetable plant breeders stay better organized and be more efficient. Michael Mazourek, the Calvin Knoyes Keeney associate professor of Plant Breeding for Cornell University, presented “Getting Started with Barcode-based Digital Data Collection for Vegetable Breeding”, a recent webinar hosted by eXtension, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and USDA.

Mazourek said that barcodes eliminate transcription and transcription errors, along with downtime for data entry. Barcodes also increase data security and availability, since growers don’t risk losing the only copy of their records. Team members can view the data anywhere at any time. Since the data is so readily available, growers can track and plot progress during the season as it comes in.

Mazourek said that it’s important to begin barcode labeling when harvesting. Labels should reflect a planned labeling system where one digit represents a particular plot, then another for the row and then one for a particular fruit.

“We start by staging bins next to their appropriate plots in the field,” Mazourek said.

Labels can be printed with a laser printer and barcode software that pairs the code with readable text.

“Rip-off tags are helpful for tossing into bags,” Mazourek said.

He added that masking tape can keep the label with individual fruits.

As each fruit is weighed and measured for the parameters the grower determines — such as length, seed cavity size, and width — the grower can link this information to each piece’s barcode by scanning it during the process.

In addition to a USB-connected scale, it’s also helpful to have a color meter and digital USB calipers. But Mazourek warned that growers should always plug these devices into the same port to avoid problems. Although they’re plug-and-play devices, they tend to be sensitive to being plugged in to different ports upon subsequent uses.  

“These companies have really great tech support,” Mazourek said.

Barcode software automatically generates sequential numbers so each fruit has its own special identification number.

 “You might need a few copies of the same number so a barcode goes with each piece of the fruit,” Mazourek said.

Water-resistant labels work for many applications, but plastic labels are more durable.

Imaging can help evaluate differences among fruits. But consistency among images can be difficult when photographing hundreds of fruits. Mazourek said that daylight bulbs can offer natural lighting that helps images stay consistent instead of relying upon actual sunlight.

“It’s a good way to lock it in for taking 5,000 squash mug shots,” Mazourek said.

He also recommends staging images on a piece of white linoleum, since photographers will need to occasionally wipe away seeds and debris. Setting the white balance based upon the linoleum maintain a consistent color for photos.

“Once we get it set to the zoom we want, we tape the lens,” Mazourek said. Avoiding glare in photos helps ensure the numbers on the barcode labels are still legible.

Considering labor costs, “we found the whole system paid for itself,” Mazourek said. “It allowed people to do more intellectually stimulating things than hand copying labels.

You have to plan ahead and have all the supplies. Some people will tell you the screens are too hard to read out of doors. We don’t find that to be the case. People use their phones fine outside.”

By streamlining the data collection process, growers can save labor hours and keep their research more accurate.