RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
During the past decade worldwide attention
has focused on the unique plight of small, family-
operated farms and on farmers with limited re-
sources. Increasingly, national and international
agencies are recognizing the need for a different ap-
proach to research and extension if these farmers
are to be effectively helped.
Traditionally, research and extension has in-
volved a "pass-off" of technology from experiment
stations to extension agents, where it is then com-
municated to farmers through meetings or demon-
strations. This procedure has had limited benefit
for the majority of small farmers who cannot achieve
experiment station conditions. As a consequence,
recommended practices seldom reach their predict-
ed potential on small farms, and adoption is low.
FSR/E--A FARM-FOCUSED APPROACH
At the University of Florida a new approach
to research and extension which specifically consi-
ders farmers' conditions is being implemented. The
focus of this approach is on the interactions within
a "farming system." A farming system is the result
of how a farmer produces, uses, markets or con-
1 ..,I i. i.. ~. .-~-~t~--'
sumes crop and livestock products. Each system
reflects a farmer's unique interpretation of and ad-
justments to the biological and socio-economic en-
vironment in which he makes decisions and func-
To a certain extent each farm is a unique sys-
tem. However, for special purposes similar farms
can be grouped into relatively homogeneous sys-
tems. A group of farms forming a homogeneous
farming system provides the basis for the Farming
Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) approach.
FSR/E is a multidisciplinary procedure that
merges research and extension. It is a means of
integrating farmers with researchers and extension-
ists in a systematic procedure for identifying and
One advantage of the FSR/E approach is
that it begins at the farmers' level. Working with
farmers, FSR/E field teams identify common farm
problems and constraints; specific solutions are then
designed and tested. Researchers, extensionists and
farmers all work together to reduce the time from
problem identification to improved practices and
adoption. In this way research results are more im-
FSR/E approach with researchers, extensionists and farmers
working together to identify problems, then generate, test
and promote appropriate solutions.
Involving Farmers--The Key
Using a rapid survey technique called a "son-
deo," which originated in Central America, FSR/E
teams identify the major problems of selected
groups of farmers. The farmers are directly involv-
ed in the process of searching for and testing solu-
tions, with the majority of the work being carried
out on farms. As a result of the continuous contact
with farmers, and the combination of research and
extension, communication is improved and enthu-
siasm for the FSR/E approach is achieved.
Since the complex problems of small farmers
stem from a multitude of sources, a multidisci-
plinary approach is required to discover the pre-
cise nature of the constraints farmers face. In FSR/E,
the integration of social and biological scientists
is emphasized. Working together and with farmers,
the field team calls upon the general body of eco-
nomic, social and biologic knowledge, and, utiliz-
ing basic research as necessary, develops innova-
tions that fit farmers' conditions.
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The FSR/E program at the University of Flori-
da has been developed within the Institute of Food
and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). Support is pro-
vided from various disciplines, including Agronomy,
Agricultural Economics, Soils Science, Dairy Sci-
ence, Geography, Animal Science, Vegetable Crops
and Anthropology. The program is both domestic
and international in scope and has three comple-
mentary functions: instruction, technical assist-
ance and research/extension.
FSR/E Graduate Minor
A graduate-level course in FSR/E methods is
offered as the core of a Farming Systems minor to
all students in agriculturally-related master's and
doctoral programs. Students choosing a minor in
Farming Systems also take a variety of courses
in supporting disciplines to prepare them to work
effectively within a multidisciplinary perspective.
North Florida FSR/E Project
A field project, "Technology Generation and
Promotion for Small, Family Farming Systems in
North Florida," has been established in IFAS with
two major objectives: 1) to generate technology
which is appropriate to the specific problems of
small, limited-resource family farms in North
Florida and 2) to evaluate the effectiveness of the
FSR/E methods developed in Central America for
providing Florida's small farmers with appropriate
technology and management strategies.
The FSR/E course program and the North
Florida FSR/E project are integrated so that stu-
dents can see the results of the approach when it
is applied in the field. In turn, the insights, proce-
dures and data that evolve from FSR/E field activi-
ties directly benefit the course. The result is a pro-
gram that combines theory and procedure with field
practice and experience.
The FSR/E program also has a strong inter-
national component administered by the IFAS
International Programs office. The study/research
program in farming systems attracts many inter-
national students, and numerous institutions in
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various regions of the world have requested aid in
developing FSR/E programs in their countries.
Special short courses are designed to provide
training in the sondeo survey technique (the basis
for initiating an FSR/E program in a given agri-
cultural area), and assistance conducting the sur-
vey is given. The FSR/E methods course is also
given on an intensive basis (one month) to develop
staff expertise within the institutions responsible
for improving the welfare of a country's small farm-
ers. At present, FSR/E training is provided in Eng-
lish, Spanish and Portuguese, with French soon to
To complement the current FSR/E training
curriculum, international short courses are being
developed both in FSR/E program management
and in the design and analysis of on-farm trials.
Plans are also under way for an intensive four to six
week FSR/E course for international participants
on the UF campus, using case studies from North
Florida and other field projects.
A key element of Florida's FSR/E Program is
that it builds upon the experiences and results
gained at both domestic and international levels.
Its strength lies in this dynamic interface, the re-
sult of which is a greatly enhanced understanding
of the world of the small, limited-resource farmer.
For more information about the University of
Florida Farming Systems Research and Extension Pro-
gram contact Dr. Peter E. Hildebrand, 1125 McCarty
Hall, telephone: (904) 392-1860 or International Pro-
grams, 3028 McCarty Hall, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611. Telephone: (904) 392-1965.
Cable: CENTROP. Telex 80-8579.
This public document was promulgated at a cost of
$280.70, or 14 cents per copy, to inform the public
about the Farming Systems Research and Extension
a The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is
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