An international group of scientists have set up an unusual dating service.
But this is one website where finding a partner isn’t based on physical attraction or even intelligence – although ‘chemistry’ does play a part.
Rather, these ‘lonely hearts’ would like to meet other researchers who run long-term agricultural experiments with ‘vital statistics’ that complement their own.
So far, scientists running 65 different farm-based studies from across the world have signed up to the new service to share their information in the hope of hitting it off.
The only stipulation for membership is you must have more than 10 years of ‘experience’.
“This certainly isn’t for those looking for ‘no-strings attached’. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul,” said Dr Jon Storkey who helps run an experiment, which at 176 years old, is the oldest to be featured on the site.
“This is more about ploughing the field than playing it.”
There is a serious expectation to this endeavour, adds Dr Storkey, with the idea it will ultimately help tackle climate change and other environmental or socio-economic impacts of farming and food production.
The Global Long-Term Agricultural Experiment Network (GLTEN) brings together long-running experiments that span nearly two centuries and six continents, as well as representing numerous climates, environments, crop types, farming practices and land-management regimes.
The researchers responsible for these long-term experiments – defined as experiments running for at least a decade – have made their information openly available on the website to help other scientists discover their experiments and foster further collaborative work.
Initially funded by the Thirty Percy Foundation, GLTEN represents a potential treasure trove of information – over 1750 years’ worth of data in total – that will help researchers and policymakers design “the farms of the future”.
“The hope is that lessons learnt in one country might improve practices elsewhere – resulting in natural resources being used more efficiently, and in a way that produces a food supply that delivers a nutritionally balanced diet,” says Dr Storkey, who is also head of the Network.
“We also hope this initiative will help us uncover ‘hidden’ long-term experiments that we didn’t know about, enabling us to mine and analyse their datasets and insights.
“This will allow new discoveries to be made, leading to a truer account of the costs and benefits of our different dietary choices.”
This new knowledge will help tackle the undesirable environmental damage associated with farming including greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, pollution, and direct and indirect land use changes, such as deforestation.
In turn, these contribute to climate change, species loss and the damaging of ecosystems – as well as endangering human well-being.
Dr Storkey said finding ways of farming sustainably requires an understanding of how growing crops impacts the environment over long time scales.
“The natural processes that determine the sustainability of food production systems often have complex interactions and so experimental results from a single site over a short-time scale are difficult to interpret.
“With large and high-quality datasets, these long-term agricultural experiments can address these challenges. However, many of these datasets were fragmented, under-utilised or have yet not been published. Our first step has been to bring information on the experiments together in one place and provide it in a consistent, accessible format.”
A good example of the value of long-term experiments is our understanding the effects of man-made fertiliser use – a practice that began in Europe during the Victorian era. Fertiliser experiments that started in the UK in the 1800s have helped chart the long-term impacts of this switch not just on crop yields, but also soils, water, wildlife, human-health and climate.
Dr Storkey said: “These long-term experiments are a really important global resource for designing farms of the future. Farming will face the massive challenges of feeding a growing world population without relying on the conversion of remaining natural habitats to agriculture, and all the while, reducing other impacts on the environment including the release of greenhouse gases and losses of biodiversity.
“For the first time, information on these long-term experiments have been brought together in a co-ordinated network to help address global issues around food security and environmental sustainability.”
The 65 sites span the globe, with about 20 in the Americas, a dozen or so in Africa, more than 10 in Europe and several others across both Asia and Australasia.
Many of the experiments have been running for many decades – the oldest is the UK’s Broadbalk Experiment at Rothamsted Research which is 176 years old, whilst a further four have also surpassed a century.
“As the network grows, it will be an important part of the exciting new science being developed at Rothamsted and partner institutions around the world to ensure a sustainable food supply and healthy environment for future generations,” added Dr Storkey.
Find out more at http://www.glten.org/ or follow on Twitter @AgGlten