Title: Agricultural technology development and FSR/E
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00080890/00001
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Title: Agricultural technology development and FSR/E
Series Title: Agricultural technology development and FSR/E
Physical Description: Book
Creator: O'Connor, James D.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00080890
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by 112.067

James D. O'Connor, Chris O. Andrew, and Peter E. Hildebrand*


Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) has enjoyed a high level of interest

and exposure in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. However, relatively

limited inroads have been made toward introducing farming systems approaches in the United

States. At the University of Florida, which has served as an important part of the non-

domestic promotion of farming systems, some efforts have also been directed at domestic

implementation. To date, those efforts have encountered difficulty stemming from institutional

inertia and resistance to change: a common feature of any large institution which has evolved

historic, and often very narrowly defined approaches to new problems. By contrast,

developing countries often are not burdened with complex histories and relationships between

agricultural research institutions, clients, and professional disciplinary societies which together

tend in the U.S. to limit the responsiveness to "real world" problems.

The objectives of this paper are to 1) provide a conceptual framework for institutional

analysis and discuss key issues for institutional change in agricultural research, 2) review the

Florida experience with farming systems, and 3) suggest some directions for domestic farming

systems which may improve the adaptive fit between farming systems approaches and the

institutional structure and incentives of the Land Grant agricultural college.

*Research Assistant, and Professors respectively, Food and Resource Economics
Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institutional Research System and Farming Systems

Public research institutions, such as agricultural colleges, may be envisioned as having

internal structures and incentives, and an external environment which interact with each other

to determine the nature of information and technology produced. Internally, each research

institution is composed of a variety of interacting organizations such as individual disciplinary

departments, administrative units, and decentralized research centers throughout the state.

The internal structure and incentives of the institution are critical in determining the type of

technology and information that will be produced. The mix of disciplines, the relative

financial support for disciplinary departments, and the level of adherence of those disciplinary

departments to the academic values of the disciplines as formulated by national professional

societies are important. The adherence of disciplinary departments to the values of national

professional societies is solidified by research administrators who often base the incentives for

tenure and promotion on publication in professional journals.

The external environment for a research institution is dominated by professional

disciplinary societies and by individuals and groups which seek to influence research funding

in the socioeconomic and political spheres. As the number of farms in the U.S. has decreased

and concentration into larger land holdings has occurred, commodity producer groups have

become the major source of political support for the funding of research institutions. Part of

the manner in which academic disciplines have evolved, and the development of new disciplines

has occurred, relates to the ongoing process of concentration in agriculture. Generally, in the

Land Grant system, emphasis in agricultural research has been placed on production oriented

problems from a micro-biological perspective, while the social and ecological problems

associated with the concentration and high-input use of agriculture have been de-emphasized

(Batie 1988).

It is argued here that the relationship between academic disciplinary values and the

needs of producer groups has coevolved to some degree and mutual advantage. The


agreement revolves around the mutual focus on increased yield per acre as the scientific goal

of the researchers and the business goal of the producers. The results of a survey of 1400

publicly-sponsored agricultural researchers suggest:

Scientists overwhelmingly emphasize the creation of disciplinary knowledge and the
increase in agricultural productivity as the most important goals for agricultural
research. (Busch and Lacy 1983, p. 233)

Continued support for production enhancement research comes from commodity producer

groups. The potential clientele (e.g. farm workers, environmentalists) for other types of

research appears: 1) in the case of sociological research, not to have the political power or

organization to make its needs felt at the institutional level and 2) in the case of ecological

research, not to recognize the role of publicly funded institutional research in promoting

technologies with adverse environmental consequences.

The reason that the relationship between academic disciplines and the producer groups is

sometimes conflicting relates to the power of the journals of the national disciplinary societies

which often reject research that is "too applied" or "parochial". "Too applied" refers to

research which attempts to solve a specific problem by crossing disciplinary lines or relying

on existing research results. Problem solving takes second place to disciplinary "values".

Schuh notes:

. today the criterion for promotion is publishing in scholarly journals. In turn
people are self- and peer-oriented. They do not feel a responsibility to the
institutional mission of solving society's problems. They do research to advance
knowledge, publish for peers, and earn consultancies. Generating and applying
knowledge to solve today's social and economic problems are not given sufficient
priorities. (Schuh 1986, p. 6)

The conflict between institutionalized disciplines and farming systems is obvious.

Farming systems stresses:

The use of scientists and technicians from more than one discipline as a means of
understanding the farm as an entire system, rather than isolating components within
a system. (Hildebrand and Poey 1985, p. XI)

There is a clear disparity between the "values" of a given discipline and the "values" of

farming systems research. Researchers have an enormous financial and personal investment


embodied in the use of a disciplinary approach to research. Further, the evolving but

traditional structure and incentives of the research institutions are not very hospitable to

users of farming systems methodologies. Similarly, farming systems projects tend to be

"institutional orphans", not fitting into any established department. Rewards to researchers

for farming systems work are less easy to achieve within the system than for subject matter

and disciplinary work. In sum, farming systems sometimes may be conceptualized as a

"bacterium" entering the institutional "body" where it is seen as foreign and is often rejected.

Farming systems, however, could have a beneficial impact on the research institution by

providing a basis for applied problem solving.

Farming Systems Research/Extension in Florida

Farming systems methodology has been, and is currently being, utilized in Florida. Three

efforts at introduction are discussed in this section: 1) an early attempt to institutionalized

farming systems in North Florida (North Florida I), 2) an ongoing interest in employing

farming system methods at a newly expanding research and education center in South Florida,

and 3) a renewed interest in reintroducing farming systems to North Florida (North Florida

II). While individual personalities do play an important role, this discussion will be limited to

administrative structure and incentives.

North Florida I

The Farming Systems approach was initiated in North Florida to 1) develop technology

for the small scale, limited resource farmers who predominated in the area, 2) assess the

farming systems methodology that had been developed in the Third World as a tool for use in

U.S. agriculture, and 3) modify the methodology as necessary if it was found to be useful in a

developed country context. The program was supported by state funds as well as from a

USDA grant. This farming systems effort was but one of several projects (primarily subject

matter in nature) located at the Live Oak research center.

Early in the program, a multidisciplinary team (the North Florida Farming Systems Team)

designed projects jointly and approved budget expenditures based on group decisions at weekly

or biweekly meetings. However, as the program matured and became institutionalized (and as

the USDA funds were depleted) natural institutional "drift" toward disciplinary research

reasserted itself. The evolving administrative structure gradually took both project design and

state budget expenditure decisions out of the hands of the multidisciplinary team. As a result,

the funds began to drift away from the problem solving research which was the purpose of

the program.

Aside from the internal institutional difficulties, the clients in the North Florida region

were receptive and stood to benefit greatly from the farming systems approach.

Characteristics of the clientele were:

1) gross farm income under $40,000, 2) tobacco and peanut acreage under 10 and 15
acres respectively, 3) high reliance on farm labor and reciprocal exchange, and 4) a
high proportion of off-farm income use. (Schmidt 1984, p. i)

This characterization is similar (in relative terms) to the farming systems found in developing

countries were the methodology has been successful in coming to terms with all the

socioeconomic and biophysical influences on agricultural technology. The clientele was

struggling financially and was open to viable technological and crop alternatives.

South Florida

The introduction of farming systems in South Florida i.e. southwest Florida Research and

Education Center at Immokalee) has been ad hoc, adopting some of the key principles without

an overt recourse to the methodology (O'Connor 1988). The approach involves a strong client

orientation and a commitment to on-farm research. The client orientation has been provided

for administratively by: 1) having each faculty on at least 50% extension appointments, and 2)

creating commodity group advisory committees which have a strong role in the development of

the center and the research agenda. On-farm research is greatly facilitated by the nature of

the clientele which is composed of large scale producers who are able financially to provide

resources for on-farm trials. Early indications are that the on-farm trials will be an

important part of the research at the center. There does not appear, however, to be a

mechanism (such as a multi-disciplinary coordinating committee) for promoting

multi-disciplinary research. The definition of the clientele is narrow (i.e. only commodity

groups), and excludes other key elements in the region (e.g. environmentalists, farm workers).

As a result, the prognosis for a full systems perspective is poor because problems are being

defined by a small proportion of those affected by agricultural technology.

North Florida II

Continued financial difficulties for producers in North Florida have provided a context

for the reconsideration of farming systems there. The major innovations in the new endeavor

are that 1) funding will be sought, and administered, by a multi-disciplinary steering

committee, and 2) the District Extension Director for seventeen North Florida counties has

been named Director of the Live Oak research center which was the focus of North Florida I.

Apparently the committee, as a steering body to the Director, will solicit and screen projects

to insure a significant multi-disciplinary component and applied problem orientation as well as

provide a broad perspective in project identification. It is hoped that the committee will

arrest the inevitable tendency to drift toward disciplinary research. By controlling the

funding of individual projects the committee will exercise some influence over researcher

incentives, although researchers will also need to attract external funding as a component of

their research programs.

It remains to be seen whether the steering committee will be able to overcome the

problems of a lack of an administrative "home" for farming systems and the powerful

institutional appetite for disciplinary research. However, the farming systems effort now

assumes broad and pervasive status within the overall research program in the Live Oak area

and enjoys program status with integrated research and extension direction.

Institutionalization continues to evolve.


The problem orientation of farming systems would seem to address the recent criticism

(e.g. Schuh 1986, Batie 1988) of the Land-grant agricultural colleges. This is essentially a

two-pronged criticism: 1) that the colleges are not addressing real problems but are absorbed

in disciplinary-defined exercises of limited relevance to the public (Schuh) and 2) that the

colleges' historic pursuit of production goals has helped create a set of problems which are

not now being addressed (Batie). Batie states:

The public's contemporary agenda does not include an abundant domestic food
supply, it addresses instead the social problems that have partially and indirectly
been generated by past Land Grant successes--environmental pollution, bankrupt
farmers, or poor human nutrition. Colleges of agriculture need to demonstrate
efficacy in addressing these issues." (p. 2).

This criticism amounts to saying that the agricultural colleges have satisfied their historic

task of production enhancement but, instead of attacking new problems (e.g. ecological

protection), they have tended to turn on each other in disciplinary competition. The farming

systems perspective might be welcomed by critics of the system and by clients who have been

disappointed by the decline of applied problem solving activities in the Land Grant college


However, farming systems as a perspective has also demonstrated weakness in terms of

identifying applied problems in the U.S. and enhancing the Land Grant approach. Little

emphasis has been placed on the policy or regional context for the development of agricultural

technology. Farming systems largely has an "inside the farm gate" perspective and is in

practice still production-oriented: sort of a "micro-socioagronomy". The socioeconomic

aspects that are considered are viewed as constraints to production, as if production was the

only objective of the farming system. This reductionism may still be a carry over from

disciplinary training. The overall goal of agricultural development, however, cannot be

attained by attempting to solve many specific micro-problems. The individual farm unit must

be viewed in the broader socioeconomic and biophysical context of a region or nation.

Numerous cumulative effects may take place which are not considered from the micro-

perspective, such as the flooding of markets resulting from many individuals adopting a

recommendation for production of a specialized crop or the compound ecological impact of

widespread increased chemical application. In its neglect of concerns "outside the farm gate",

farming systems is misusing the term "systems".

If farming systems is to be used in a domestic context it would seem imperative to

include research on environmental and distributive equity problems. A realization of these

problems comes from widening the boundary of analysis to local community, regional, state and

national levels. Farming systems should not further the production needs of a small group of

large-scale producers at the expense of wider communities. If the clients are not

representative of the wider society, then the problems that are identified are, only by

coincidence, social problems. Both client and problem orientations are necessary, but by no

means sufficient, conditions for a socially beneficial research and extension program.

As is being done in North Florida there are some organizational innovations which may

be employed to promote farming systems research within the existing institutional structure.

The multi-disciplinary research and extension steering committee represents a good possibility

(perhaps a necessary condition) for sustained change. The impact of the committee is greatly

strengthened if it guides funding allocations and also achieves status and legitimacy from the

research institution. The advancement of farming systems may rely heavily on the interest of

tenured faculty who are not dominated by the institutional pressures for the production of

disciplinary research.


For the success of farming systems in the U.S., it would appear important to meet client

needs which are not now being met thereby attracting political and financial support. Because

of its heritage in developing countries, farming systems is often thought to be appropriate

only for depressed areas (North Florida) and not for dynamic areas (South Florida). It can be

equally effective in both areas. Farming systems, however, needs to be much more rigorous in

determining whose problems to solve in the social interest and what the broader impacts of

those solutions will be.


Batie, S.S. "Agriculture as the Problem: New Agendas and New Opportunities." Dept. Agr.

Econ. Staff Paper No. 88-6, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1988.

Busch, L. and W.B. Lacy. Science, Agriculture, and the Politics of Research. Boulder:

Westview Press, 1983.

Hildebrand, P.E. and F. Poey. On Farm Agronomic Trials in Farming Systems Research and

Extension. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., Boulder, Colorado, 1985.

O'Connor, J.D. "Agricultural Technology and Regional Ecosystem Protection: The Role of

Publicly Funded Research". Ph.D. Dissertation, Food and Resource Economics Department,

University of Florida, 1988.

Schmidt, D.L. "Synthesis of North Florida Farming Systems Project, University of Florida

1981-1984." Department of Food and Resource Economics, 1984.

Schuh, G.E. "Revitalizing Land Grant Universities: It's Time to Regain Relevance." Choices


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