The United States has a rich history of agricultural information sharing. Many societies were formed for just this purpose in the early days of America; leaders in Philadelphia formed an agricultural society as early as 1785. This trend grew and evolved after the Morrill-Land Grant College Act established a partnership between U.S. universities and agriculture in 1862. This led to the incorporation of scientific research in the development of crops and plant varieties. Agricultural information was then published and shared through field offices and extension services.
Early agricultural publications contain information about plant varieties, pest control, and farm management. These documents also feature an overall picture of rural life, including the values of farming families and the rapid changes that industry brought to farming and ranching practices.
Agricultural information can be regionally specific, as the local soil, climate, terrain, and availability of labor and equipment impact crop success and yields. Some methods and techniques, however, can be adapted for other locations. The fundamental and simple techniques contained in these early publications can be helpful to small farm operations, such as home food production.
Archiving Agricultural Information
Universities and local agencies have been major producers of agricultural information. Land-grant institution libraries, Cooperative Extension offices, and the National Agricultural Library (NAL) have been primarily responsible for archiving this information. Preserving agricultural history not only provides a window into the past, but documents the knowledge and practices of the time. This process preserves the work of national and local agricultural departments along with unique materials not available elsewhere. While many universities and the NAL have taken on the task of digitizing early publications and providing increasing access to digital content, the majority remain available only in print. Digitization will likely remain a top priority in the coming years.
Current Trends in Agricultural Information
Local foods and “farm to table” efforts, which aim to bring awareness of and a reduction in the distance food travels from harvest to consumption, have recently seen a growing interest. These efforts point to a renewed focus on small operations and simpler techniques for growing, harvesting, and preserving food, often featured in Cooperative Extension service documents. Additional research in the area of sustainable harvests is anticipated.
Linking Resources and Researchers
Agricultural information is expected to become more integrated in the knowledge network. Systems that connect researchers to research and to each other are expected to grow:
- Embedded footnotes and citations within articles will also increase the awareness of researchers to those with similar interests.
- Links to the data or datasets that inform the results are expected to become more commonplace and will allow researchers to repurpose and reuse existing research.
- Open access to publications and data derived from government-funded scientific research is expected to expand beyond medical research and include topics such as agriculture.
- Applications and tools to mine, manipulate, and use the supporting data will also be offered more frequently and used to discover agricultural information.
The challenge to locate, preserve, digitize, and link information, data, and users will require collaborative work at an international level.
René Tanner, Life Sciences Librarian, Arizona State University