Agronomy and FSR - a reluctant marriage?
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091275/00003
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Title: Agronomy and FSR - a reluctant marriage?
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Hildebrand, Peter E.
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Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Peter E. Hildebrand and Dennis R. Keeney '

The impact of Agronomy on FSRE has been large and significant. Most of the earliest
FSRE on-farm research (in the early and mid 1970s) was agronomic in nature and
involved annual crops with heavy emphasis on improved genetic materials and to a lesser
extent fertility Early experimental designs reflected those in use by agronomists on
experiment stations. Cropping systems and multiple cropping were important elements in
FSRE and stemmed in no small part from the pioneering work of Richard Bradfield,
Agricultural Consultant for The Rockefeller Foundation, who was working on rice
cropping systems at IRRI in the 60s and 70s. Bradfield was also one of the early
agronomists to recognize the value of working cooperatively with social scientists
(Bradfield 1966).

A more subtle impact of Agronomy on FSRE stemmed from the reluctance of
agronomists to modify their conventional methodologies. They preferred to stay on
experiment stations rather than subject their technologies, and themselves, to the vagaries
of conducting research on small, limited-resource farms. The agronomic goal of
producing "broadly adaptable" technology fit in well with the practice of controlling non-
experimental variables at non-limiting levels. This practice created artificially superior
environments that large-scale and/or industrialized farmers could mimic but limited-
resource farmers could not achieve (Hildebrand and Russell 1996). Adoption of the
"released" technologies was generally on fully commercialized farms rather than the
small-scale family farms that have become the main focus of FSRE programs. When
agronomists did do on-farm research, and some has always been done, or extension
personnel conducted their demonstration plots, there was always the tendency to control
non-experimental variables at recommended levels if not at the levels used on experiment
stations. If we go back 60 years, most agronomic researchers were from farms, and
stations more closely resembled most farms, so differences were less important. It must
be recognized that the limited resource farmers that agronomy researchers were
encountering in the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s were in a whole new set of
circumstances that agronomy had not tackled before (M. Collinson, personal

Recognizing that limited resource farmers could not duplicate the favorable conditions
under which "improved" technology was being produced and that their lack of adoption
reflected the fact that the technology did not respond as well under the poorer
environmental conditions of these farmers, FSRE practitioners (both agronomists and

Respectively, Professor, Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida; and
Director, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University.

social scientists) moved their research (or were moved) from existing experiment stations
to the fields of small farmers whom they saw as their primary clients. Results included
an increasing awareness of 1) the strong interaction of treatments with the kinds of
environments in which the small farmers were working, 2) the benefits of having farmers
participate in developing new technologies, and 3) the need for direct evaluation by the
women and men farmers of the treatments eventually destined to be "released" for their
use and the use of their own criteria for evaluation. Recognizing the need for different,
"niche" technology rather than broadly adaptable technology was an important
consequence of conducting research under real, limited-resource conditions. The
immediate impact was on the FSRE teams, but there was also a longer term effect on
agronomy, itself.

Early on-farm trials by FSRE practitioners, many of whom were social scientists, tended
to alienate research agronomists even more than that caused by just having social
scientists around (Hildebrand 1979). Agronomists were relatively comfortable, or at least
not directly threatened by the role of social scientists in conducting surveys even though
results of the surveys sometimes did tend to threaten them. Agronomists, however, were not
comfortable when the social scientists among the FSRE practitioners planted field trials,
heretofore the exclusive domain of agronomists (Ibid.). Common comments from
agronomists about the bedraggled nature of FSRE trials under real, limited-resource
conditions were something like, "This looks just like a trial being run by social scientists"
to, "It's a good thing it is well off the road!" One of the most usual and most
disheartening comments was, "It is obviously not worthwhile to work under these
conditions because nothing can be accomplished" (Ibid.). This last type of comment
stems from agronomists' training to equate low yields and limited treatment effects with
high CVs, if not "lost trials." This influence can have a negative impact when
agronomists in management positions decide that FSRE teams should work with farmers
who have the best resources rather than the usually larger number of farmers with very
poor resources. The latter, of course, are the ones who especially need the help that
FSRE offers but that are viewed as sources of potential failure by agronomists
accustomed to favorable and controlled conditions on experiment stations.

Within the agronomy profession, there appears to be a dichotomy developing, perhaps at
an accelerated rate. The majority of agronomists are becoming more reductionist in
perspective as their training and interests move them more and more inside plants and soil
particles. But there is also a significant group of agronomists who are broadening out
into farmer-oriented systems (as opposed to plant growth systems, for example). As early
as 1976 the American Society of Agronomy (ASA, CSSA, SSSA) published "... the first
major publication of the three societies on one aspect of increasing food production
beyond increasing cultivated area and increasing yields; that is, harvesting more than one
crop from the same piece of land in a year." (Papendick et al. 1976, p. v). This
publication resulted from an ASA symposium led by the A-6 Division, International

Agronomy, on multiple cropping at which two social scientists (both agricultural
economists) participated. In 1978, an A-4 (Extension) and A-6 led symposium on
transferring technology for small-scale farming, with an anthropologist participating,
resulted in another ASA publication by the same name (Usherwood 1981). In this book,
then ASA President John Pesek (1981) argued the importance of small farmers as
providers to the world supply of food, and Nyle Brady, then Director General of IRRI,
lamented that only about one fourth of the rice farmers in the tropics had benefitted from
the improved rice technologies. "For the other three quarters, no really superior
technologies have been developed that suit their conditions and that financially benefit
them" (Brady 1981, p. 7). Brady further argued that "A major constraint to modification
and adoption of new technology to small-scale LDC farmers is the failure of researchers
and extension personnel to work with them" (Brady 1981, p. 9). In the same publication,
Robert Waugh, Adjunct Director of ICTA in Guatemala, argued that "Probably the use of
multidisciplinary teams of biologists and social scientists has contributed more than any
other thing to making it possible for the social scientists [at ICTA] to contribute to
agronomic technology. By the same token, this integration has had a beneficial effect on
the nature of the work undertaken by the biological scientists" (Waugh 1981, p. 85).
Many members of the A-6 division have been active in FSRE for many years, and the
division elected an FSRE agricultural economist as Chair Elect in 1990. In 19XX the
ASA created the A-8 Division (Agricultural Systems) with support from the FSRE community
within and outside the ASA. In the December, 1995, Agronomy News, the ASA announced that
its premier publication, the Agronomy Journal, would open a new topic section, Integrated
Agricultural Systems, which would include farming systems research and extension.

Recently, agronomists are closely associating FSRE with Sustainable Agriculture. Many
agronomists with FSRE backgrounds and experience in developing countries have been at the
forefront of sustainable agriculture concepts undoubtedly influenced by the concern of FSRE with
a systems approach and the location-specific nature of technologies required by limited resource
farmers. Obviously, FSRE has not been the only influence on the move toward systems
approaches to sustainable agricultural development, but the influence is undeniable. When the
USDA, National Research Initiative, Competitive Grants Program initiated its new Agricultural
Systems Division, an FSRE agricultural economist headed the proposal evaluation team that had
several other FSRE agronomy professionals on it. The USAID-funded Sustainable Agriculture
and Natural Resource Management (SANREM) Collaborative Research Support Program
(CRSP), the USDA-funded Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) program,
and the reorganized Soils Management CRSP all require methodologies that were pioneered by
FSRE practitioners. Iowa State University (ISU) agronomist, and former ASA President John
Pesek chaired the Board of Agriculture's National Research Council committee that prepared the
1989 NRC book on Alternative Agriculture. Dennis Keeney, another ISU agronomist and also a
former ASA President currently heads the Leopold Center at ISU. But as he points out,
administrative declarations do not change paradigms. After a decade of Leopold Center funding
and persuasion there are only two FSRE-type projects in Iowa that truly involve agronomists,
even though there are and will continue to be much research and education in alternative systems.

Obviously there is a strong relationship between agronomy and FSRE and there is a great deal of
mutual influence. However, the two do continue to move their separate ways, perhaps

contributing to the higher knowledge that in diversity there is strength.


Bradfield, R. 1966. Toward more and better food for the Filipino people and more
income for her farmers. ADC Paper, The Agricultural Development Council, New York.

Brady, N.C. 1981. Significance of developing and transferring technology to farmers
with limited resources. p. 1-21 In Usherwood (ed.) Transferring technology for small-
scale farming. ASA Spec. Publ. 41. ASA, CSSA, SSSA, Madison, WI.

Committee on the Role of Alternative Farming Methods in Modern Production
Agriculture, Board on Agriculture, National Research Council. 1989. Alternative
agriculture. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

Hildebrand, P.E. 1979. Incorporating the social sciences into agricultural research: The
formation of a national farm systems research institute. Institute de Ciencia y Tecnologia
Agricolas, Guatemala, and The Rockefeller Foundation, New York.

Hildebrand, P.E. and J.T. Russell. 1996. Adaptability analysis: A method for the design,
analysis and interpretation of on-farm research-extension. Iowa State University Press,

Papendick, R.I., P.A. Sanchez and G.B. Triplett (ed.) 1976. Multiple cropping. ASA
Special Publication 27. ASA, CSSA, SSSA. Madison,WI.

Pesek, J. 1981. Forward In Usherwood (ed.) Transferring technology for small-scale
fanning. ASA Spec. Publ. 41. ASA, CSSA, SSSA, Madison, WI.

Waugh, R.K. 1981. Research and promotion of technology use. p. 67-88 In Usherwood
(ed.) Transferring technology for small-scale farming. ASA Spec. Publ. 41. ASA, CSSA,
SSSA, Madison, WI.