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Preserving a gold mine: System rescues decades of research data

Video: Texas A&M AgriLife

Younger agriculture scientists frequently jettison decades of research data gathered by senior researchers – not because the data is useless, but because the recording methods are obsolete.

It’s a problem that has long vexed Monte Rouquette, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist in Overton. He took on the challenge of solving the problem, working with Charles Long, resident director of research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, and Greg Clary, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist in Overton, now retired.

Their solution was BeefSys, which has become a massive archival database containing all the research work done on beef cattle, forages and pastures at the Overton center since 1967.

“This is not one experiment. This is many, many, many experiments,” Rouquette said. “There’s a lot of forage and animal performance data — a gold mine of data.”

BeefSys assigns each animal a unique ID number, allowing researchers to access related data that may be spread across many tables: medical, calving, grazing, carcass traits, breeding and more

The data, Rouquette said, are not in summary form. Instead, entries are as raw numbers, direct from the original field records. The modern relational database format will allow researchers to compare performance of F-1 cows and their offspring on different pasture systems over an array of widely varying climatic conditions.

He foresees scientists using BeefSys for statistical analysis, creating decision-making tools for stakeholders in such areas as sustainable pasture management strategies, economic assessments and risk studies –both biological and financial – associated with pasture livestock operations.