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Illinois' Historic Morrow Plots Data Transforms into a Digital Treasure Trove
Illinois Ag Connection - 05/24/2023

The University of Illinois has achieved a remarkable milestone by digitally preserving the vast amount of data collected from the Morrow Plots, an agricultural experiment that has been ongoing for over a century. Since its establishment in 1876, the Morrow Plots have held the distinction of being the oldest continuous agricultural experiment in the Western Hemisphere. Through the collaborative efforts of the Morrow Plots Data Curation Working Group, this invaluable repository of knowledge is now readily accessible to scientists, educators, and researchers worldwide.

Led by experts from the University of Illinois' College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and University Library, the working group painstakingly transformed the historical records into a comprehensive digital database. The endeavor involved standardizing the information to facilitate year-to-year comparisons and included the digitization of an ancient notebook held by the Department of Crop Sciences.

The significance of this digitization effort is far-reaching. Previously, researchers had to submit numerous requests for access to the Morrow Plots data each year. Now, the newly established Illinois Data Bank serves as a centralized platform for retrieving this invaluable dataset, saving researchers time and effort.

The impact of the Morrow Plots data transcends geographical boundaries. Researchers from the United States and around the globe are eager to explore the information, particularly in terms of understanding the relationship between weather patterns, crop yields, and soil data. The data also facilitates comparative studies between the Morrow Plots and other long-term trials, enabling researchers to gain valuable insights.

Beyond its research potential, the digitized data holds promise for uncovering long-term trends and shedding light on key agricultural principles. Analysis of the Morrow Plots' extensive records allows for a deeper understanding of the impact of crop rotation, nutrient inputs, and soil fertility on crop yields. This knowledge has the potential to revolutionize farming practices, enhance sustainability efforts, and drive future innovations in the agricultural sector.

The digital preservation of the Morrow Plots data marks a significant milestone in agricultural research. By embracing technology, the University of Illinois has not only preserved a historic experiment but has also provided a valuable resource that will shape the future of agriculture, benefitting farmers, scientists, and stakeholders worldwide.

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