An ARDC-supported national partnership is helping to advance the country’s agricultural sector through innovative application of digital technology.
The Agricultural Research Federation (AgReFed) is an Australian platform that aims to improve the discoverability of trusted, reusable, and analysis-ready agri-data from across Australia.
Everyone from landholders to researchers and industry professionals can use the open source platform to perform repeatable analyses, as well as draw on new and existing data to produce novel insights across multiple agricultural sectors.
The project, led by Federation University Australia and supported by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), has united several universities and industry partners under a shared goal: to make agricultural data more findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR).
“AgReFed is providing tools and workflows to support agricultural researchers and to change the way agriculture research is conducted across Australia,” Director Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (Federation Uni) Helen Thompson said.
Hamish Holewa, Director of ARDC’s Planet Research Data Commons, said, “Good decisions on growing food and fibre relies on good data. Through combining disparate and hard to access datasets in one place, AgReFed is set to improve agricultural research and agricultural production in Australia.
“We are continuing to work on data challenges for agricultural research, alongside earth and environmental science research, through the Planet Research Data Commons.
“We encourage the agricultural research community to get involved in establishing the Planet Research Data Commons by registering your interest.“
Diverse Agricultural Data Now Accessible
Working within the diverse team of experts are University of Southern Queensland Senior Digital Research Advisor Dr Francis Gacenga and Computational Agro-Econometrist Dr Duc-Anh An-Vo, who have helped to develop the platform.
“Agricultural research is not homogenous – there are many different fields, such as those provided at UniSQ, including farming systems, climatology and plant and soil science, with each using different techniques and producing different data types,” Dr Gacenga said.
“There is also the challenge of sharing agricultural datasets without worrying about licensing commitments.
“AgReFed provides a platform where users can share and analyse their datasets and research methodologies within a controlled system, helping to improve the quality and impact of their work and others. AgReFed provides access to infrastructure, storage, and automation required to get the most out of aggregated data.
“This can save Ag industry stakeholders significant time and effort.
“We have created the platform’s foundation, and over time, we’re hoping to build something that will revolutionise agricultural data management practices in Australia.”
Integrate and Analyse Agriculture Data with AgReFed
The system is based on a federated cloud model, where contributors can share their work to a server while still retaining data ownership.
In one application, the platform is used to integrate biological and yield data with spatial-temporal-environmental, and sensor data to improve discoverability and output.
The platform also provides access to coding scripts, allowing users to run scripts that sort through data to produce a usable output, saving them from having to clean and manipulate the data manually.
“For example, an agricultural researcher can log into the system and, with no experience in coding, select a combination of datasets and run scripted code to generate useful results such as find the best sowing time for a variety of grain,” Dr Gacenga said.
“Individuals can use this system in many ways, including to inform policy making, improve innovation and to promote collaboration,” Dr An-Vo said.
“There is no limit to its applications – wherever there is data, there is the ability to unlock greater potential.”
AgReFed Council Chair Dr Nicolas Taylor (University of Western Australia) said the AgReFed platform would have wide-ranging impacts.
“It empowers researchers to access and explore reliable, reusable datasets, workflows, and models in agriculture,” Dr Taylor said.
“This fosters data reuse and encourages collaborative efforts across different disciplines, leading to innovative research discoveries and their practical implementation in policy, reporting, and on-ground decision-making processes.”
Geodata-Harvester Tool for Automatic Data Extraction
An exciting part of the AgReFed platform is the Geodata-Harvester project, which provides researchers with reusable workflows and open-source software for automatic data extraction from a wide range of data sources, including spatial-temporal processing. Led by the University of Sydney, the project has created a Python software package, R notebook, Python Jupyter notebook, documentation and training to support researchers.
For more information and to access the platform, visit AgReFed.
Learn more about the ARDC’s Planet Research Data Commons.
AgReFed received co-investment from the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC). The ARDC is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).
This article is based on a media release from the University of Southern Queensland.