PRIZED DATA, FREE AND OPEN TO ALL
Progress to benefit modern sustainable agriculture, agroecology and the environment relies on earlier investigations in the field, and those going back 175 years offer a treasure trove.
The first official account of the electronic Rothamsted Archive and what it offers, published today, highlights how this unique historical repository of agricultural and meteorological data, which stretch back to 1843, is the result of some remarkable forward thinking.
“But if our knowledge of the chemistry of soils should progress as rapidly as it has during the last twenty years, the analysis of a soil will ere long become much more significant than it is at present,” note the founders of Rothamsted Research presciently in a paper published in 1864.
John Bennet Lawes and Joseph Henry Gilbert began their fertiliser investigations with field experiments in 1843 and, from the start, they kept samples of soil, grain, straw, vegetation and fertiliser, plus data on crop and soil analyses, yields and the weather. More records followed.
The accumulated data has always been open and freely available for other researchers to use but the public launch of the electronic Rothamsted Archive (e-RA) in 2013 eased access, and e-RA has steadily become an increasingly well-used and internationally recognised resource.
Some of the earliest records of experimental data from the fields of Broadbalk (1843) and Park Grass (1856)
A team of scientists from Rothamsted has now produced a detailed account of the archive as part of a commitment to promote open data, backed by the institute’s principal funders, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT). The account is published today in the journal, Scientific Data, as part of a collection, Open research data resources.
“Long-time series of data are increasingly valued and are relevant for research into sustainable agriculture, agroecology and food security, as well as for work in modelling, soil science and many other disciplines” says Sarah Perryman, joint e-RA curator and principal co-author.
“And we’re more than just data,” adds joint e-RA curator and co-author, Margaret Glendining. “Users have access to supporting specialist background information, such as experimental field plans, fertiliser treatments and key references, and are fully supported by our curating team.”
The archive holds records of yields of the most important Long-Term Experiments (LTEs) at Rothamsted as well as the longest running, freely available, daily weather data in the UK.
Staff from e-RA will be demonstrating the archive at an international LTEs conference at Rothamsted next week and at the Festival of Ideas, which marks Rothamsted’s 175th birthday, at the end of June.
“We are managing the e-RA database as a dynamic, developing resource, continually adding to and enhancing it,” says Richard Ostler, Agri-Eco Informaticist and co-author, who handles queries about e-RA’s open data management. “Importantly, we are working towards FAIR data principles in making the LTE data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.”
The electronic Rothamsted Archive is funded under the LTE National Capability Grant, which also covers the Classical Experiments, the Sample Archive and the Rothamsted Environmental Change Network, and is provided by BBSRC.
For further information, the archive’s website is www.era.rothamsted.ac.uk; its Twitter handle is @eRA_Curator; and to contact the curators for a password to access the archive, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
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The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.