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ADDRESSING FLORIDA'S EMERGING
FARM PROBLEMS THROUGH
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
Worldwide, agriculture is facing new problems. The technology that produced
the remarkable productivity increases since the late 1930's and was created with
abundant and comparatively cheap energy is becoming less appropriate. As world
population increases at a record rate and natural resource availability declines
the pvrQem is becoming more and more critical. Increasing public interest- i-
such --ra -as environmental quality adds a further dimension to these new problems
facing agriculture, as does mounting concern over the plight of the small or
limited resource farm.
This white paper indicates how a method known as Farm Systems Research and
Extension (FSR/E) can help in the search for new technology. The method is
appropriate for domestic and international work and is of special importance for
diversified or limited resource farmers. Some elements of this new approach are
already used domestically in north Florida and internationally in Malawi, El Salvador,
Bolivia and Ecuador by IFAS faculty. The basic methodology presented here was
developed over the last 5 years in the Guatemalan Institute of Agricultural Science
and Technology (ICTA), and is being used in modified form in Honduras, Colombia and
Panrina. Similar approaches have also been developed and tested in Africa and Asia.
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
A farming system is the result of the manner in which each farmer produces
and markets or consumes crop and livestock products. It is the phenomenon that
results from each farmer's unique interpretation of the natural and socio-economic
environment in which he attempts to augment his family's utility, as influenced by
the resources available to him and those agronomic, economic, environmental, cultural
and social factors which to some degree affect his decisions. Each farm is a unique
"farming system". Yet similar farms can be grouped into homogeneous farming systems.
These groups of homogeneous farming systems serve as the basis for FSR/E. Farm Systems
Research and Extension is an integrated, multidisciplinary team approach to under-
standing specific farming systems and to use this understanding to develop and
promote improved and more appropriate agricultural technology for them.
Over the last few decades, most agricultural research and extension workers
have provided information to their clients based only on their own area of
expertise in, say, r~oe production or 4e farming or even fertilization or heg
parasites. This information, although valuable, tends to be isolated from and
static with respect to other problems, products and inputs and is no longer suitable
by itself to meet agriculture's new challenges. FSR/E, as a supplement to the
traditional component approach, can better provide integrated answers and is more
appropriate to many problems.
Figure I shows how the traditional multidisciplinary system of research has
functioned using two disciplines as an example. A coordinating committee focuses the
participants' attention on the general problem and approves each contributing project.
These contributing projects are mostly conducted independently but result in jointly-
authored or cross-referenced publications. Disciplinary or component technology is
passed to extension along disciplinary lines.
Figure 2 demonstrates the FSR/E approach. A multi-disciplinary team, working
as a unit, defines a specific problem in a dei4qiod area, and together develops a
single, integrated project to search for one or more solutions. Each member of the
team contributes from his own area of expertise, but the effort is joint and the
principle product is the technological solution applicable to the specific problem
identified. Supporting projects, publications and application to other geographical
areas are secondary to the major FSR/E thrust.
Several important characteristics contribute to the efficiency of the FSR/E
approach. First, as the identification of and solution to farm problems can
originate from a variety of fields, the wider the disciplinary representation on
the team, the greater the probability of defining real problems and of producing
technologies useful to the clients. Secondamp, by concentrating a team effort on
Figure 1. The Traditional Approach to Coordinated Multidisciplinary
Research and Extension Activities
: FSR/E 'Project
The FSR/E Multidisciplinary Team Approach to Research and
specific problems, the time to application and adoption of new technology is
minimized. Third, farmers and extension workers are involved in the process
from the beginning. This reduces or eliminates the need to modify a new
technology to make it acceptable to specific conditions and allow promotion to
begin early in the technology development process.
"7 FSR/E | creates an environment in which unique or mw exotic, yet
appropriate and highly acceptable solutions to farm problems can be spawned. Participa-
tion in an FSR/E team can be complementary to other staff activity and can have
the by-product of generating additional research areas to study specific aspects
of the problem in more depth using traditional disciplinary procedure.
As recently developed, FSR/E involves the following sequence of events, all of
which involve the entire FSR/E team:
1. Select a group of farmers, homogeneous with respect to their farming
system based on regional, commodity or other considerations consistent
with state, national or institutional priorities.
2. Study the selected farming system to determine what the farmers do,
how they do it and why they do it that way. Interaction of the team
members will help define problems and develop possible solutions.
3. Design and conduct appropriate station experiments, farm trials or
other means of testing alternative solutions.
4. Establish a testing procedure whereby the clients evaluate the most
promising technologies or solutions.
5. Organize appropriate procedures to promote the most acceptable solution
6. Utilize a farm record system to study adoption and impact of suggested
PROPOSED COMMITMENT TO FSR/E AT UF
This is an opportune time for the University to become involved in Farming
Systems Research and Extension activities. Most donor agencies are enthusiastic
about and placing high priority on this approach. Yet there is no university
with an FSR/E program that can serve as a source of training for domestic and
foreign staff and students. Developing a strong program here not only would attract
financing and participants, but also would be critical to helping Florida's farmers
solve their emerging problems.
The composition of multidisciplinary FSR/E teams depends on the nature of each
project. The following are some of thegepartments that have expressed interest
in an FSR/E approach to helping solve problems of Florida's farmers and which
could be involved in international efforts as well: Agronomy, Agricultural Engineering,
Animal Science, Anthropology, Entomology and Nemotology, Food and Resource Economics,
Forestry, Vegetable Crops and Preventive Veterinary Medicine. Others would probably
also be involved. An FSR/E group has been meeting frequently on campus and would
provide the disciplines required to initiate program activities.
An FSR/E program would have several facets. Basic would be one or more strong
projects in Florida. Counties with concentrations of limited resource farmers in
the Northwest have been suggested most frequently as an area of initial research and
extension emphasis. This activity would involve research and extension staff as well
as graduate students and is necessary to provide credibility to any claim in expertise
in FSR/E. A brief series of courses, most already being taught, would be identified
to serve as a core for students interested in concentrating in this methodological
approach. International projects with FSR/E activities would facilitate interchange
of faculty, methodologies and technologies between the domestic and international
components. Current and potential projects in Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Malawi
and Colombia as well as with various international centers would provide the cpre
of foreign program efforts. A proposed project for including Social and Economic
Criteria in Agricultural Research (SECAR) through USAID would also be incorporated '
into an FSR/E program at the University of Florida.
Operational requirements include a mechanism for freeing staff time as program
efforts are initiated. This would involve both an initial source of funds and
some modifications of ongoing projects. Sources of funds for graduate student
participation would also facilitate initial efforts. Part of long run funding
would logically come from core university funds, but abundant funding from outside
sources is foreseen as soon as a credible program iy' underway.
Not only is the time opportune for the University of Florida to initiate an
FSR/E program, but time is of the essence. Because of the great interest at
present by many donor agencies (chief among them USAID) on the FSR/E approach, it
will be but a short time before several U.S. universities (and possibly some foreign
universities) establish programs and begin to compete for funds and participants.
With the University of Florida's well known 6hi.s it has many advantages
in becoming a national and international leader in FSR/E, but these can be offset
by lack of sufficient initiative to i'rti4 t a strong program with due haste