Penn State’s PlantVillage Forum is Making Crop Information Free and Accessible

Allyn Rosenberger

Pennsylvania State University’s PlantVillage provides nearly 1 million worldwide users with free information about plants, plant disease, and plant growth. Co-Founder David Hughes started the website to ensure that all knowledge that helps people grow food is openly accessible to anyone on the planet. The database currently has more than 150 crops.

In 2013, Hughes and Marcel Salathe, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State, established PlantVillage. In an interview with Penn State’s Agricultural Science Magazine, Hughes said, “We want to democratize access to the world’s knowledge on plants. Historically, much of that information has been contained behind paywalls by commercial companies. We are translating and rewriting a lot of that knowledge in simple, understandable terms so it’s practical, relevant, and free for those who need it.”

PlantVillage contains a Q & A forum, where users can post questions about their crops for other community members to answer. To ensure future users find the best answers quickly, the site utilizes community-based sorting, whereby community members vote for the best answers, and the answers with the most votes appear at the top of each thread.

According to Hughes, “A crowdsourcing and ranking system enables the network of participating farmers, gardeners, scientists, extension specialists, and others to share perplexing questions and offer answers. The advice is moderated to weed out potentially bad information, and the best and most-valued answers are voted up by other users.”

In addition to this forum, PlantVillage’s Plant Library provides users with a database of information on over 150 crops. Here, community members can find the crop’s description, pictures of the crop, suggested uses, and information about propagation.

PlantVillage harnesses the increase in mobile technology among farmers across the world by making their forum and library accessible from all devices with internet access. As they continue to grow, PlantVillage hopes to add more features, including language translation, video chats, and a phone app platform.