It is well documented that last year was wet, but scientists from Rothamsted Research at North Wyke have accurately measured that nearly 1 billion litres of rain fell on their 68 ha (168 acre) grassland research centre in Devon in 2012.
What's more they measured that 18 million litres of rain fell during a 24-hour period in July 2012 with around 5 million litres of water pouring through their flumes which measure all the water leaving the individual experimental fields. This is the first time this level of detail has been recorded at the farm scale in the UK.
The farm platform is a BBSRC-funded National capability providing the research community with access to a range of in situ state-of-the-art instrumentation in hydrologically isolated fields and farms to better address key issues in sustainable agriculture.
In a paper published on the Rothamsted website, the team have shown that the average 10 year annual rainfall until 2011 was 909 mm. This increased by one-third in 2012.
The longest continuous dry period recorded on the North Wyke Farm Platform was only 7 days during 2012.
Lead scientist, Dr Jennifer Dungait said "as well as rainfall data, we also measured that some 70%, or 700 million litres, was lost as surface or subsurface drainage. This has direct relevance to farmers, for example we estimated silage yields were reduced by 50% in 2012, compared with 2011."
Dr Dungait added "these important and unique data highlight the fragility of farming systems to climatic variability and the need for longer-term farmscale research, as we adapt our farming systems to cope with climate change. Meteorologists have forecast that, for the foreseeable future, there will be more extreme weather events, including very heavy rainfall and periods of droughts and the extreme rainfall in the South West in 2012 fits with this prediction".
Rainfall records which are measured using the official Met Office Weather Station at Rothamsted Research North Wyke extend back for 31 years. In addition to this, the research centre also includes a new BBSRC-funded " Farm Platform" which enables scientists to study the entire farm system in unprecedented detail. The precision-engineered water flumes on the 15 hydrologically isolated fields automatically record every litre of water passing through each field and transmits this data back to a central data system.
The head of research at Rothamsted's North Wyke Farm Platform, Prof Phil Murray said, "as well as understanding the effect of longer-term climatic effects on livestock production, the Farm Platform also allows us to road-test new grassland farming techniques in a real farm environment". He added "we are currently testing new grass hybrids, developed with colleagues at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Biological Research (IBERS) that may reduce risk of flooding".
About the North Wyke Farm Platform
Read more about the multi-million pound North Wyke Farm Platform, including video, at www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/food-security/2012/120918-f-big-questions-bigger-experiments.aspx .
About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research, the longest running agricultural research station in the world, has provided cutting-edge science and innovation for over 160 years. It receives strategic funding from BBSRC to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £467M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.