Farming systems in North Florida


Material Information

Farming systems in North Florida the complementarity to research, planning joint activities, and institutionalization of farming systems concepts
Physical Description:
12 leaves : ill. ; 28 cm.
Rich, J. R ( Jimmy Ray ), 1950-
Swisher, Marilyn E., 1948-
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural systems -- Research -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Agricultural extension work -- Florida   ( lcsh )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Statement of Responsibility:
J.R. Rich and M.E. Swisher.
General Note:
General Note:
Caption title.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 610572155
lcc - S451.F6 R52 1981
System ID:

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J. R. Rich and M. E. Swisher


The Farming Systems (FS) approach has proven beneficial

to the University of Florida IFAS Research and Extension

activities in North Florida. The'major problem encountered

by FS personnel has been finding a suitable "fit" in the

institutional programmatic setting and among professionals

in the area. Many of the problems related to appropriate

fit of FS have been solved by trial and error over a period

of three years.

The Farming Systems (FS) approach is multifacted and

activities within FS encompasses aspects within and outside

of traditional research and extension functions. Because of

its many facets, the relative importance and usefulness of

FS varies with institutional and professional needs and

priorities. Hence, we have found no simple answers for the

placement of a program such as FS into the institutional

structure. Rather, a definition of overall institutional

goals and intense planning are needed before initiation of a

FS project. In North Florida less than optimum planning was

conducted and hence the methodology had to find its own

level within the institutional framework and with

agricultural professionals. Greater early coordination

would have been most useful to lessen the time interval

needed for developing a successful FS program.

In this paper, the authors strive to show the value of

FS and also indicate points that may be useful to those

contemplating the Farming Systems approach in other Domestic


A. The Complementarity of FS and Research in North Florida.

FS has enhanced research and placed the final research

product more on target. As indicated, the FS approach,

however, did deter from research in its initial stages. The

deterrence occurred because any new idea or change that

impacts an established system creates disruption. The Land

Grant University system is a very historic one and has a

definitive methodology for the production and dissemination

of knowledge. It is a pattern of doing "business" that has

obviously been successful for many years.

Farming systems represents an approach that seeks to

offer constructive changes and hence modify the way we have

been doing "business". Thus, initial conflict arose from a

sometimes overzealous attititude on one part and highly

conservative attitude on the other. As a result,

conceptualizing common goals, achieving beneficial

professional interactions, and incorporating FS into the

existing infrastructure were fought with problems. The FS

concepts and approaches have proven useful and do complement

research at the University of Florida. At the same time,

farming systems does not imply a complete overhaul of the

land grant system, as its proponents have sometimes implied.

In our view, FS represents a natural evolution in the basic

business of information generation in research and

dissemination to the client.

A series of examples from North Florida illustrating

how FS complements reesarch may provide a clearer

prospective than dwelling on the Farming Systems approach

itself. From our perspective, farming systems has provided

four interrelated sets of "results" that have improved

research in North Florida. This research has been most

productive in the more applied research areas (i.e.,

adaptative reesarch) indicating that the greatest value

of FS in North Florida is not in basic research.

1. The Systems Idea: Farming systems brought to the

forefront the idea of "systems" in our research efforts.

Over a number of years, research has increasingly concerned

itself with multidisciplinary approaches to solving

problems. Farming systems expanded this concept to include

utilizing a multidisciplinary study of the farm unit as a

whole economic, management, and physical constraints. FS

then returned to research with pertinent basic research

questions and/or became directly involved in more adaptative

research efforts.

The relationship of farming systems to research,

however, is as much a focus as it is real. The new

perspective provided by FS may be its most important

contribution by motivating the whole of research into asking

and answering "new" questions. For example, we now hear and

think more frequently about questions such as, "How does

this research information impact on a grower's management

time?" "Is this technology reasonable under variable sets

of environmental constraints?" These questions are in

contrast to such usual questions as: "Does this information.

provide for maximum biologic yield?" Farming systems, thus,

has given us a new focus such that we now ask about

multilevel management recommendations i.e. does the

recommendation package fit the major constraints of the farm


2. Systems Data Gaps: Information generated through

research many times are only approximations and data gaps

are always present. Researchers have basically too many

questions to be answered, and some of the less basic

questions, particularly in the "systems" mode go lacking.

For example, in North Florida corn has become of less

and less importance because of environmental constraints

droughty soils) and the need to produce high yields for

profit. The obvious challenge to research and extension

alike was, and is, to seek alternatives to this crop while

developing information to make corn production itself more

feasible. Researchers have been studying and have suggested

alternatives to corn including sorghum, wheat, tropical

corn, and perhaps triticale. Solid research information has

been developed for variety recommendations, planting dates,

pest control, and feeding value of corn alternatives.

This is a good approach if the problem is a specific

one such as a chemical control technique i.e. a point

specific problem. But, questions involving a new or

entirely different cropping system require systems

information. For example, "What is the relative yield,

feeding value, and cost of sorghum and corn grown side by

side in differing environments and under variable management

conditions?" "How about wheat, triticale, and tropical

corn?" In this situation, the need is to go one step beyond

our normal commodity testing programs to further integrate

data into packaged information. Here, a generalized testing

scheme of: 1) on farm testing under variable conditions, and

2) point specific data development on the Research stations

is more appropriate. The question is "Do we promulgate

information to someone the agent or farmer who must

modify it to fit his needs or do we produce more integrated

data that at least accounts for differing variables?"

3. Filling Single Point Data Gaps: The systems thought

process and systems work in action have been discussed as

contributions of FS. FS provides another useful benefit,

i.e. a mechanism to help fill single point data gaps. This

is accomplished through the close contact FS personnel have

with growers, and through their interaction with University

Extension and Research personnel. Members of the team

provide invaluable service by determining the main

problem/problems of the clientele (systems or point

specific) and assisting with solutions to these problems.

An example can be cited from North Florida in a

strictly discipline/commodity mode. FS professionals,

extension agents, and soil scientists recognized that IFAS


fertility recommendations in the deep sands were not

comparable with actual grower practices, and that these

recommendations needed revision. As a group, IFAS

professionals worked together to improve our

recommendations. The Extension Agents and farming systems

personnel provided for the on-farm testing, and the soil

scientist supported the work with technical assistance and

data analysis. Together, the agent, FS personnel and the

soil scientists gathered enough information to substantially

change the recommendations in a relatively short period of

time. The end results lower fertilizer recommendations

that match the physical environment of the deep sands.

4. Intangible: Lastly, a major part of the benefits of FS

has been intangible and synergistic. As indicated earlier,

FS personnel look at "systems", and their ideas and inputs

can and have reshaped some of our research programs. As

importantly, however, the FS idea and personnel have created

a unity among professionals in North Florida among

researchers, agents, and farmers. For example, at one time,

many growers were unaware of the Research Center and its

various programs. Now, many more fully understand Research

Center efforts from having research conducted on their farm

by IFAS personnel.

B. Joint Planning of FS and Research Programs.

In the beginning: The interaction and planning efforts of

Farming Systems activities with those of research were

predominately by trial and error. Informality has been the

watch word since the inception of the Farming Systems

-I -

activities with Research in North Florida. FS personnel had

to take the initiative in organizing and coordinating

activities with Research. This was natural since

researchers usually have a full agenda at any point in time.

Thus, in a matter of speaking, the new kid on the block had

to make a place for himself in existing programs and in the

initiation of new programs. It should be made clear that

researchers were not overly protective, but rather that they

had to make priority shifts to encompass these new FS


Turning Point: Priority shifts and greatly increased mutual

planning of FS and Research came about a year after

activities began in North Florida. A key element in

cooperative efforts was the placement of an FS person, Dr.

Mickie Swisher, at the Live Oak Agricultural and Educational

Research Center. At that point, the FS program was not just

more IFAS personnel working in the area, but rather, an IFAS

colleague continually in association thus, instant,

effective communication.

Planning and effective dialogue made a rapid turn at

this point and has since steadily increased. Planning with

Research, however, still tends to be quite informal, such as

over a cup of coffee. In more important matters, FS

personnel will call meetings and receive active

participation from Researchers and Extension personnel on

both short and long range planning efforts. In addition,

once yearly, a planning and prioritization meeting is held

for more formalized activities.

Because of the catalytic nature of FS, an area team

composed of extension, research, and FS personnel was

gradually developed. Thus, of the various projects now in

North Florida, it is sometimes hard to tell where the

"traditional" research ends and FS activities begin.

Program Expansion: The informal planing procedures and

trial and error methods, have worked reasonably well in the

North Florida setting. The predominant factor in this

"success" was a limited area hence a small group of

professionals involved in FS activities. Greater cohesion

and structure will be required in a larger geographic area

involving more personnel.

A theoretical display of how planning and coordination

have evolved in North Florida and also could work on a

larger scale is included in Figure 1. In North Florida,

agricultural professionals include: commodity and discipline

researchers, extension specialists, Farming Systems

personnel, and Extension Agents. The clientele group may

include those farmers engaged in mixed livestock and field

crop farming, fields crops only, and livestock only.

In Figure 1, the Center block called Regional Personnel

represents those IFAS professionals physically present in

North Florida. The regional professionals and farmers may

meet formally and informally to prioritize activities,

determine needs, and develop programs for local agriculture.

Commodity researchers and extension specialists involved in

North Florida but not physically located in the area are

asked to attend and provide input into these sessions.

Hence, a localized set of problems are identified and

priorities placed from which answers are cooperatively

developed and solutions cooperatively found.

C. Institutionalization.

Prior discussion has centered upon the complementarity

of FS and planning efforts with Research and Extension. In

order for FS as a concept to grow, however, it must be

placed in the mainstream of University activities. Farming

Systems as a separate entity in the institution may not be

appropriate in the Land Grant Institutional setting.

Rather, priorities in the institutional setting have been

established for concepts such as FS (e.g. Integrated Pest

Management) that are multidisciplinary in nature. The same

must occur if FS is to expand beyond a pilot project.

Farming Systems, however, deviates in three important

ways from programs such as IPM. First, a larger number of

disciplines including the social sciences may be involved.

Second, generally greater interactive cooperation between

research and extension is needed. Third, while various

other programs have been institutionalized both

administratively and budgetarily, FS is only in the

beginning stages of this process in the Domestic Setting.

The FS approach itself focuses on the "systems" aspect

of the Farm Unit. In the broader context, however, for

farming systems to be effective, the approach and

methodology must be integrated fully with other activities

of the Land Grant Institution. The part of the Farming

Systems methodology which probably causes most confusion in


the institutional setting is the requirement of more

thorough blending of Research and Extension activities than

has been traditionally practiced that is, an even greater

dialogue and integration of activities among Agents,

Researchers, and Specailists. This Research-Extension

overlap particularly comes to the forefront in on-farm

testing programs.

At least, three elements must necessarily be considered

if FS integration with Research and Extension is to take

place 1) administrative leadership, 2) cooperation and

commonality of goals by agricultural professionals and

3)suitable resources and base support.

Concepts relating to FS methodology include such things

as local agricultural needs, variable environments,

multilevel management techniques and the general need to

study the farm unit itself for more appropriate technology

generation. In the institutional setting, however, these

concepts translate into physical needs i.e. money,

manpower, and other resources that may or may not be


FS personnel have identified a strong need to work more

closely with and provide more information to our clientele

groups. On the other hand, more budget dollars are needed.

It would appear that the institution has a problem similar

to that we find in crop production i.e. "How do we

maximize output and minimize input?" The North Florida

project has been faced with this problem and has laid the

ground-work in this state for coordination of manpower,


resources and money that would cost much less than initial


One method the North Florida project has increasingly

used is to maximize the use of the entire IFAS resource base

in North Florida. This was accomplished by coordinating

extensively with agricultural professionals in the area and

utilizing existing resources of the Live Oak AREC.

Basically, FS personnel and local agricultural professionals

realized the synergistic benefits for these interactions.

From the FS viewpoint, the question was asked: "Why spend

many thousands of dollars for equipment if suitable tadeouts

could me made with the Research Center?" Area professionals

asked the question: "Will not FS benefit our present


Local organizational efforts were much quicker in

development than the overall institutional organizational

efforts. It would appear at this point that upper level

direction on organization and direction is needed. One idea

that is in the formative stage is to more formally organize

as a local coordinating committee (Note Figure 1 Regional

Personnel) i.e. extension, research, and FS and allow this

committee some special budgetary authority. This more

formalized effort could provide a closed loop system of

continuous information development, transfer, and feed back

for locally perceived and identified constituent needs. A

prominent role in planning and on-farm trials could be

played by FS personnel by both looking at the whole "system"

approach and helping bridge the research-extension gap.


In summary then, the FS activities require money to

operate, manpower, resources and a resource base (equipment,

etc.), and good cooperation among regional agricultural

professionals. Because of these needs, organizational

matters must become more institutionalized. Presently, FS

activities are running more on mutual benefits derived than

on a structured, permanent footing in North'Florida. For

the FS concept and methodology to become more firmly

engrained and expanded, organizational and mind set changes

must occur. On the positive side, if this occurs,

institutional costs associated with the project could be

reduced tremendously while still fulfilling the original

goals of the North Florida Project.

In summation, FS means: 1) greater communication and

interaction among Agricultural professionals and farmers in

North Florida that helps all involved perform their function

more efficiently and effectively i.e. the development and

transfer of appropriate technology to heterogenous


F I G U R E 1: R E G I O N A L R E S E A R C H A N D




Determine Needs
Develop Programs
Validate Results