REVIEW OF THE NORTH FLORIDA
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION PROJECT
by Thomas S. Dierolf
for AOG 4932
The following report on the North Florida Farming Systems
Research and Extension Program (NF FSR/E) is essentially divided
into two sections. The first section deals with the evolution of
the NF FSR/E. Information for this section was gathered from
reportsreviewsand a yet to be published synthesis on the
project. Personal communications were used to clarify some of the
more complex interactions. Hence, what results is a summary of
the history of the NF FSR/E project directed toward persons less
than familiar with the project.
The second section presents the findings of several
conversations conducted with past and present project members.
These people ranged from upper level administrators to graduate
students working in the field. This section may be of more
interest to persons already familiar with the project but willing
to read what someone has to say about it.
My involvement with the project dates back to August,1983
when I began working on my Masters in Soil Science. Due to an
interest in' agricultural development I started attending the
biweekly meetings of the team. With help from the team, I set up
some liming trials around the end of October. My funding came
from the Soil Science Department and I was rarely called upon to
help somebody else on the team. I can therefore consider myself
an outsider who happens to have a foot in the door. Up until
recently I didn't really have a good grasp of what was taking
place or why. During and after attending Dr. Hildebrands class on
FSR/E methodology I began to understand more of what was
occurring. But I also felt that what was supposed to occur and
what was happening were two different things. Then in the summer
of 1984 I took Dr. Waughs class on managing FSR/E. One of the
requirements of the class was a term paper on some program or
institution and the administration and management of the same.
The North Florida Project seemed like the perfect topic since I
was somewhat involved,and it would provide an opportunity for me
to learn more about it.
Because I came in during the middle of the project I don't
have the same perspective as does someone who has been with the
program since its inception. Some of the disadvantages of this
are that a person new to a project doesn't have an in depth
knowledge of the daily events that shaped the project. Thus much
of what he can gather is superficial as when presented in
periodic reports or memos, or is by word of mouth,which may be
biased or even inaccurate. The advantage of this is that I can
take a more objective view of the project. It was commented to me
a couple of times, that I shouldn't be afraid to be critical.
Unfortunately some people might take it upon themselves to over
criticize and deride everything.
I used as my sources letters,memos, and reports found in the
projects files. I also talked to several peopleeight in all, who
were or are involved with the project in one facet or another.
Their positions ranged from a top level administrator to students
who had worked on their research with the project. The interviews
were conducted in a "sondeo" type approach. I had certain
objectives but at the same time the interview was allowed some
latitude as determined by the interviewee and what he felt like
discussing. As I talked to more people I began to direct the
questions to more specific topics which I felt were pertinent to
answer some of my questions.
A side note is that a problem sometimes encountered when a
survey is being conducted of farmers in a particular region also
occurred in the interviews. Farmers will sometimes that they are
not the ones to talk to. They will tell you to go up the road a
ways and talk to Farmer Smith who grows a lot of corn. Now he's
the man you want to talk to. I was told the same thing and had to
convince them they were the ones I wanted to talk to and not
The North Florida Research and Extension Project (NF FSR/EO
is a domestic program attempting to employ the farming systems
research and extension approach. It is arguably, the first
domestic application of a approach that was initially developed
overseas. Now in its fourth yearsignificant differences are
apparent between it and the model overseas programs. Farming
systems research and extension is a generic term describing an
approach toward solving a problem. The feeling has been that
current methods of research and extension can be improved upon.
Instead of coming up with a drastically different method of
research and extension, the farming systems methodology offers a
stepwise approach to solving the problems of agricultural
development. The final product can most likely be obtained via
several different routes.
Getting an institution such as the Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) to accept the farming systems
approach is usually no easy matter. An initial interest inside
the institution to adopt this approach to research and extension
will probably help expedite matters. Three separate examples are
discernable at the University of Florida (UF) and IFAS that
supported this interest.
Firstthe UF has a long history of international
involvement. More recently this was emphasized in the
"Proposal for a Title XII University Formula Strengthening
Grant". Where President Marston and Vice-President of
Agricultural Affairs Dr. Tefertiller both stressed the
commitment of the UF to international studies and
Second, some people inside the institution who were
trying to promote the farming systems approach. Dr. Chris
Andrew of International Programs helped initiate the drive
for FRS/E at UF. He has had international experience and
was familiar with-FSR/E.
And third, some people were receptive to ideas
improving upon the current system of research and
extension. It helps when these people hold important
positions such as the Dean of Extension, Dr. John Woeste.
Once initial support within the institution had been
identified the next step was to promote additional support. The
additional support was generally speaking in the form of:
I/ Backing by other faculty and departments in
IFAS,since this was
ultimately to become a way of thinking in the way
IFAS carries out its functions.
2/ Funding was needed to help initate any projects.
Dr. Peter Hildebrand was brought to UF in 1979 and given the
responsibility of designing a program in FSR/E Initially the
approach had been used only in the developing countries. Because
of its success in working with limited resource farms in
developing countries, it was proposed to initiate a pilot program
in Florida. In January, 1980, a white paper was prepared entitled
"Addressing Florida's Emerging Farm Problem Through Farming
Systems Research and Extension. This report describes the urgency
for the UF to initiate an FSR/E program to beat the competition
for funds from donor agenciessuch as USAID. To help build
credibility in the approach they suggested that farming systems
research and extension work be conducted in northwest Florida
where several parts of the approach were already being put into
use. Some courses, Hildebrands course in FSR/E methodology being
one of them, were to be offered as a core for interested
students. To facilitate interchange of faculty, methodology,and
technologies between domestic and international components they
also stressed the need for participation in international
This planning was carried out with the stipulation that this
was to be a long term project. They felt it should not be
initiated unless there was enough interest. It was also noted
that when working with this approach farmers will make certain
financial commitments, such that projects should not be
terminated until results usable by the client were produced.
Then a couple of months later in March,1980 a paper entitled
"Program in Farming Systems Research and Extension" expounded on
the fact that UF had sufficient resources for successful
participation in FSR/E, among these are:
1/ IFAS possess some 900 senior faculty of which
about 300 have signifi- cant international experience.
There are also scientists in other departments with
relevant international and agricultural expertise and
2/ UF and its research centers are located in a
subtropical zone with climatic conditions similar to those
of many developing countries. Thus much of the research
experience is directly or closely relevant to the problems
of agricultural development in developing tropical
3/ The large variety of agriculture in Florida
provides for a wide array of concentrated expertise that
is practically unique to the U.S.
In May of 1980 the FRED department produced another report
which was ostensibly a revision of their philosophy and a
statement of the international program needs of the various IFAS
units. The major points included:
1/ International and domestic programs should be
2/ They should be aimed toward long-term continuous
work with respect to to foreign countries.
3/ They should be directed toward situations where we
are in a position to provide effective leadership or where
we are in a position to readily develop a leadership role,
4/ Priorities should be given to tropical and
subtropical areas of the world.
They then outlined a program for the development of an FSR/E
project at the UF. It would consist of three main components:
A/ DOMESTIC FSR/E PROGRAM
To consist of one or more operating FSR/E teams
in Research Centers of the University working on
problems of small farmers and on the emerging
problems related to energy,water, and other scarce
resource use on larger commercial farms as well.
B/ INTERNATIONAL FSR/E CENTER
To be located in Gainesville and responsible for:
1/ Supporting research and graduate training
2/ Short courses for training of U.S. and
foreign administrative and program planning personnel
in techniques and usage of FSR/E.
3/ Consultancy service involving UF faculty with
experience in farming systems.
C/ INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS
1/ Operational FSR/E projects in several
countries utilizing faculty and graduate students.
2/ Network of courses related to FSR/E taught in
Latin America and Africa.
The previously mentioned papers present the initial stages
of gathering support for the project by showing the need for a
farming systems approach and by outlining the organization and
objectives of a program. The next notable occurance was the
acceptance of the proposed project by the department heads of
FREAgronomy,and Vegetable Crops. In June,1980 they sent a formal
memorandum to Vice-President Tefertiller,and the Deans of
Extension and Research. This was a conditional acceptance because
they wanted assurance that there would be long-term funding for
the program from sources outside their already tightly budgeted
With this support gathered behind him, Dr. Hildebrand
expanded upon the objectives of a domestic program in "Strategy
for Developing a Farming Systems Research and Extension Program
in IFAS." These being:
1/ To determine the appropriateness of FSR/E
methodology to help solve problems of small, limited
resource farmers under Florida and U.S. agricultural
conditions. Also to see if there are enough left-behind
farmers so that the methodology can be cost effective.
Left-behind farmers were described as those not able to
adopt a new technology because it is not appropriate to
his conditions. By working with these farmers it is
believed new technologies will be generated that can be
used by them.
2/ To the extent the methodology can be changed to
fit domestic conditions or improved for foreign
location,modify the FSR/E procedure to make it more
3/ Through technology generation or
modificationshelp left-behind farmers improve their farm
operation by means fitting within their resource
constraints and the available or modifiable
In this paper he also includes the programming schedule for the
domestic project along with the statement this all of this is
dependent on obtaining funding for the field team.
Then in the Fall of 1980, the USDA approved funding for
three years starting in March ,1981. Then the project,which had
all along been doing some work in Alachua County,shifted its
attention to the North Florida region.
Initially the North Florida Farming Systems Research and
Extension Program was organized so that the UF was the center of
the project. One of the goals was to move the project into the
counties in which it was working. An examination of the past four
years shows this change occurring.
Diagrams 1 and 2 show the organizational structure of the NF
FSR/E project in 1981-82 and 1984 respectively. A comparison of
them shows the following differences:
1/ International Programs no longer has any official
administrative ties with the project. They were important
in the initiation of the project but have since moved out
to aid in the institutionalization of FSR/E. They still
contribute occasional support through the FSSP.
2/ Dr. Hildebrands involvement is now minimal if not
nonexistent. This is due to his greater participation in
the Farming Systems Support Project (FSSP).
3/ The budget is now administered through the
4/ Dr. French has taken over as team leader.
5/ Dr. Swisher is now a multi-county agent. This move
has helped to integrate the extension service into the
project. Prior to this,there was little input from the
county agents into the teams efforts.
6/ Collaborating scientists now have input into
on-farm trials as well as on-station trials.
Under IFAS administration there was an advisory committee
consisting of Chris Andrew in International Programs, F.A. Wood
the Dean of Research, and John Woeste the Dean of Extension. As
stated earlier International Programs involvement was initially
to attract personnel and funding. There was support for the
project particularly from the Dean of Extension. But yet there
was little interaction at that time with the county extension
department. This didn't occur until 1983, when the county
extension directors and agents started to play a larger part
providing inputs in the decision making process. The opposite was
true for the research branch where the methodology was initiated
at the team level and had to work its way up through departmental
In the 1984 organization chart it can be seen that
International Programs no longer is officially linked
administratively to the North Florida Project. This was a step
toward institutionalization of the project. Informal contacts are
still maintained between International Programs and the Research
and Extension branches.
Hildebrand also moved out of the picture pretty much in
1982-83 and Tito French became the team leader. Budgets for the
project were eventually administered through the Agronomy
Department. This move was made due to the increased ability of
Agronomy to administer the budget than FRE. These changes, I
believe were in part responsible for the gravitation of the team
to concentrate more on the agronomic aspects and put less
emphasis on economics.
Overall, two general observations can be seen signifying an
evolution is taking place. First, there has been a shift from an
administrative center at UF to one at Live Oak. Second, the
systems approach has taken a foothold in IFAS in that
interdepartmental faculty are involved and the extension service
is increasing their participation.
In the summer of 1983 when the NF FSR/E project was having
its annual review and planning session a four member team was
invited by IFAS to review the project. The review lasted for one
week and entailed interviews with staff and administrative people
along with participating in the review sessions with project
members,administrative peopleand University staff members. The
review team came up with several recommendations:
1/ The NF FSR/E should continue since it had achieved
certain results and attained a level of credibility.
2/ Since FSR/E is more of a concept than it is a
substantive program there should be more participation
from discipline oriented faculty in FSR/E activities.
3/ The FSR/E needs an institutional home, a minimum
structure and legitimacy.
4/ Appropriate linkages need to be established
between the program and other activities in IFAS with
characteristics similar to FSR/E.
5/ An expansion program is needed.
The review team came up with four suggestions regarding
possible administrative homes for the NF FSR/E.
1/ The Agricultural Research Centers would serve as
the base from where joint research and extension planning
would take place. The NF FSR/E seems to be heading in this
2/ A high level unit such as the Center for Rural
Development could serve as the administrative home.
Planning would still be regionalized.
3/ Research or extension would have the
responsibility for the systems approach.
4/ To appoint a joint research/extension coordinator
for on-farm technology to work under the director of
Research and Extensionwho would do the the FSR/E
coordination. Thre objective of this approach would be the
avoidance of a program but still achieve the
institutionalization of a systems mode of action.
The review team suggests that expansion can occur in either
of two ways. They could either expand around the original area
where there are similar farming conditions. The other alternative
would be to take the team to a new area to work. Before this can
be done, I feel, the current project must be established well
enough so that new personnel can fill the vacated positions. They
also state that the present FSR/E project would have been more
efficient with more support personnel especially in support of
field work. Once information has been gathered and basic skills
gained the team can continue updating technologies with less
effort and it should be possible-to reduce the team size, without
completely abandoning an area.
In. my opinion it appears that the people who play the
largest role in the project, i.e. the decision makers,are th~ ones
most satisfied with its progress. The ones least satisfied ;ere
the students and technicians,i.e. the ones feeling that they tad
very little or no input into the decision making. To almost every
viewpoint expressing one side there seemed to be an opposing one
that was just as reasonable. For example in regards to the lack
of an agricultural economist on the team. Some responded that
there have always been students doing their thesis work in FRED
thus economists have always been linked with the project. Yet the
response was that they weren't doing what could be termed
entirely as farming systems work. The review team also realized
that this was a major missing element. This matter seems to have
been resolved. An extension agent, in farm management, is expected
to join the team shortly. This is another indication of the
institutionalization of the approach, where the extension service
is (I expect) providing the furds.
The dissatisfaction is most noticable from the graduate
students involved with the project. The decision makers are more
Although the training of researchers and graduate students
is originally a part of the International FSR/E Center component
I feel the North Florida Project provides an excellent practical
training ground. It has been exactly that since its inception but
it has been neglecting the students as of late. The students
involved with the project since its earlier days are now gone.
The agricultural economists that came because of Dr. Hildebrands
involvement are no longer coming since he has been devoting his
attention to the FSSP. Other student economists may be reluctant
to join because of the projects past history of turning them into
agronomists. Now with the present shift of the project to Live
Oak it will become even more difficult to involve students at a
thesis or dissertation level.-An excellent suggestion was made to
have students live in Live Oak for six months as an internship.
Another consideration would be to have .some means of
allowing these new students to study the history,and current
focus of the project. Another suggestion was made to make it
mandatory for these students to read the synthesis of the NF
FSR/E. Other documents should also be made available to provide
information to new students. Because as the project moves along
the current publications will be out of date.
Finally there must be a concentrated effort to identify
sources of students whose interests might be beneficial to the
project and vice versa.
The training of students is essential if the farming systems
approach is is be adopted worldwide. It is these students that
will be more open to the new approach since they haven't been yet
concerned with the project as a whole. Its institutionalization
and its affect on the clientele in the area. The students, while
not ignoring the process as a wholeseemed to be more concerned
with their particular project. A common complaint is that they
are often required to do so much work involving projects other
than their own that they don't have sufficient time to devote to
their own work. The students in FRED who were supposed to be
concerned with the economic and management aspects found
themselves performing agronomic work. I heard the phrase "farming
systems work in the NF FSR/E project means economists are doing
agronomic work" repeated by more than one student economist.
Somewhat related to this is the complaint that the project
at the field level is not managed as efficiently as it could be.
A couple of factors discussed were; that the distance from UF to
the project area complicated logistical handling, and that it was
due to less than adequate managerial ability in the team.
As mentioned before there was a tendency to concentrate more
on the agronomic aspects. I also mentioned that I felt that was
due in part to a few organizational changes where the team ended
up basically consisting of two people in charge of making the
major decisions. The most notable constraint identified to FSR/E
,not only by the current team members but since before the
project even got off the ground is related to the institution
itself. There is not an adequate reward system regarding tenure
and promotion of faculty to provide incentive for them to work in
an FSR/E mode. Researchers may thus concentrate on producing
experiments worthy of journal publication but which are not in
keeping with FSR/E.
been indoctrinated to the traditional approach to research and
extension. By improving their training here it can only serve to
help them when they themselves become professionals.
Dean,C.E.,Maynard,D., and Polopulus,P. 1980. Minimum
requirements for initiating a farming systems research and
extension (FSR/E) program at the University of Florida.
Memorandum to K.R. Tefertiller,Deans Woeste,Wood,and
Spinks. IFAS,University of Florida.
Food and Resource Economics Department. 1980. Future
international programs involvement of the Food and
Resource Economics Department. Food and Resource Economics
Department, University of Florida.
Hildebrand,P.E. 1980. Strategy for developing a farming
systems research and extension (FSR/E) program. Food and
Resource Economics DepartmentUniversity of Florida.
IFAS International Faculty and Center for Tropical
Agriculture. 1980. Addressing Florida's emerging farm
problems through farming systems research and extension.
IFAS,University of Florida.
SchmidtD.L. 1984. Synthesis of North Florida Farming
Systems Program, IFAS, University of Florida. Department
of Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida.
Team for the Evaluation of the North Florida Farming
Systems Research and Extension Project. 1983. Report of
the team for the evaluation of the North Florida farming
systems research and extension project. Submitted to the
Director, IFAS, University of Florida.
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