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Rothamsted Research

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Rothamsted Research is the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for around 170 years.

Its mission is to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity, quality, and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.


Its strength lies in the integrated and multidisciplinary approach to research in plant and soil science through international collaboration.

Rothamsted Research's patron is Her Majesty the Queen and the institute has a proud history of achievement, responsible for:

  • Inventing synthetic pyrethroid insecticides which now comprise a quarter of chemical pest control agents used worldwide
  • Creating permethrin, cypermethrin and deltamethrin - the second generation pyrethroids
  • Developing modern statistical techniques - Rothamsted was the home of R. A. Fisher, English evolutionary biologist and mathematician who founded modern statistical theory
  • Development of the Penman, and Penman-Monteith equations - The United Nations standard method for modelling evapotranspiration
  • The world's first commercially produced chemical fertilisers, the superphosphates
  • Shaping modern agricultural practise
The main research site at Harpenden. Image: RRes
The main research site at Harpenden. Copyright: RRes

Strategic aims

The institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), focuses its activities in four strategic scientific themes, closely aligned with BBSRC's Strategic Plan, that address challenges facing agricultural and environmental sciences in both the developed and developing world.

  1. 20:20 Wheat: increasing wheat productivity to yield 20 tonnes per hectare in 20 years.
  2. Cropping carbon: optimising carbon capture by grasslands and perennial energy crops, such as willow, to help underpin the UK's transition to a low carbon economy.
  3. Designing seeds: harnessing our expertise in seed biology and biochemistry to deliver improved health and nutrition through seeds.
  4. Delivering sustainable systems: designing, modelling and assessing sustainable agricultural systems that increase productivity while minimising environmental impact.

These programmes are underpinned by four national capabilities:

  1. North Wyke (Devon) Farm Platform: three 25ha experimental farming systems where inputs and outputs can be accurately measured in situ within our 250ha research farm.
  2. The long-term experiments, sample archive and eRA database: running since the mid-19th century and provide a unique experimental system and archive.
  3. The Insect Survey: operates two national networks for monitoring insect populations in the UK.
  4. PHI-base: is a database of multiple pathogen-host interactions maintained at Rothamsted Research with considerable input from the international community.

Vision and organisation

No single approach can deliver sustainable agriculture with high productivity and value. A broad perspective that encompasses the whole plant system is needed and a careful balance of approaches is required. Rothamsted integrates biotechnology with other areas of science such as agronomy and agro-ecology so both existing and new knowledge can be implemented through agricultural practice.

At the heart of Rothamsted's work is a customer focus with a need to provide the knowledge and innovation to policymakers, manufacturers and most importantly the farming community who are integral to delivering sustainable food security. This strategy therefore combines its 170-year tradition with vision.

RRes supports around 350 scientists (including 50 visiting scientists), 150 administrative staff and 60 PhD students and has three main campuses:

The Broom's Barn campus. Image: RRes
The Broom's Barn campus. Copyright: RRes

Broom's Barn (Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk) is the UK's national centre for sugar beet research. It is located 20 miles east of Cambridge and focuses its research on developing, enhancing and protecting the root crop and exploiting the unique properties of sugar beet and works closely with growers and industry. For example, Broom's Barn has well-established relationships with British Sugar, the NFU and the British Beet Research Organisation.

The purpose-built facilities at Broom's Barn include laboratories for molecular biology, plant pathology and plant physiology as well as glasshouse and controlled-environment rooms. There is a 120ha experimental farm with irrigation and plot covering tunnels for drought tolerance experiments, as well as specialist facilities for field studies of pests and diseases.

The North Wyke campus. Image: RRes
The North Wyke campus. Copyright: RRes

North Wyke (Okehampton, Devon) has 250ha grassland and is globally unique in that it can provide the research community 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. It contains a Farm Platform of three independent 25-hectare farmlets to allow theories and technologies to be tested at the whole- farm level. The Farm Platform will be a focal point of collaborative agricultural research with UK laboratories and offshore universities

A publicly accessible Farm Platform website is under development to provide a portal to documentation, experimental calendars, protocols as well as information about how new studies can be initiated. A data retrieval and analysis web site with user access controls will be developed which will form the repository of data for access by the user community.

The Harpenden site is home to the longest-running agricultural experiments in the world, such as the Broadbalk area, pictured. Image: RRes
The Harpenden site is home to the longest-running agricultural experiments in the world, such as the Broadbalk area, pictured. Copyright: RRes

Rothamsted (Harpenden) is the main site where the bulk of the research and administrative functions occur.

It comprises of 400ha land (mainly wheat research) and a series of state-of the art facilities for plant bioscience including modern lab space, and facilities for bioimaging, microscopy, molecular analysis, metabolomics, proteomics, and an environment-controlled building with 16 cabinets and eight growth rooms, as well as containment facilities and insectary unit that features the UK's most extensive aphid collection and over 1000m2 of glasshouse space. Rothamsted also houses a unique experimental system and an archive of soil and plant samples which has been running since the mid-19th Century.