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Title: North Florida Farming Systems Project
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Title: North Florida Farming Systems Project
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621. 6'778


THE NORTH FLORIDA FARMING




SYSTEMS PROJECT







Linda Cassens LaForest


April 6, 1992












The North Florida Farming Systems Project (NFFSP) was started in 1980 and

continues, although in a different form, up to the present. The purpose of this paper is to

examine the changes that occurred in the project over time and how these changes affected

the use of the farming systems approach. The final questions that I will attempt to answer

are whether the project does still exist, and in what ways it succeeded or failed, Information

is drawn from papers and interviews of a variety of people involved at all stages in the

project.



I. Overview of the NFFSP

1981-1984

In the late 1970s and 1980, interest in parts of IFAS began to coalesce around the

farming systems approach. In 1980, the concept of developing projects using farming

systems methodology in domestic and international work, as well as creating an international

center for farming systems training, gained approval among key administrators. Symbolic of

IFAS's interest in the farming systems methodology was the hiring of Dr. Peter Hildebrand

to establish a farming systems program at the University of Florida. In 1980, the University

of Florida received $350,000 in USDA support to develop a "pilot" domestic farming systems

program. The purpose was to "identify, develop, test and deliver appropriate technology for

limited resource farm households in north Florida." (Schmidt, p. 3) The areas chosen to

apply this approach were Suwannee and Columbia Counties in north central Florida and







included approximately 600 farm households.

In 1981 a sondeo was conducted to identify the main problems and constraints facing

the farmers of the region. From the results of the survey short-term and long-term

objectives were developed and programs initiated to fulfill those objectives. Short-term

objectives focused on increasing the profitability of the farms through means of reducing

costly farm inputs, improving cash flow management, using less energy-intensive systems,

breaking through the hardpan, intercropping, use of more nitrogen-fixing crops, and better

transfer of information. Long-term objectives were the development of alternative

enterprises that could provide stability to the farms, such as new crops and markets, and

forage, vegetable, and rotation systems.(Schmidt) Particular technologies mentioned in the

Schmidt report include the introduction of different crops, a less-expensive type of subsoiler

to break the hardpan, different rates of fertilizer application, and better ways of

disseminating information. Crops experimented with included tropical corn, winter wheat,

alyceclover, pigeon pea, and perennial peanut.

The administration of the NFFSP fell to Dr. Peter Hildebrand, named coordCnator

of the IFAS farming systems program in December, 1980, and an administrative

coordinating committee (comprised of the deans for research, extension, and resident

instruction) and technical advisory committee (comprised of IFAS department chairs and

headed by Dr. Chris Andrew). The administrative coordinating committee made policy,

while the technical advisory committee provided input to program operations, selection of

team members, and research design. Dr. Andrew acted as a liaison between the IFAS

deans, faculty, and team members. Personnel at the Live Oak Agricultural Research Center







(ARC) handled local coordination. The two core faculty members initially involved were

Dr. Hildebrand and Dr. Edwin French (Agronomy Department). As the project became

established, French emerged as the fieldwork administrator and Hildebrand became less

involved directly. The other two core members were USDA appointees George Clough and

James Dean. In addition, graduate students were involved from the start of the project.

Weekly meetings were held at the University, where team members, including faculty and

students, discussed all phases of the project. Starting in late 1981, Dr. Marilyn Swisher

coordinated field activities on the farms. An USDA-sponsored agronomist joined the team

from 1982-1983, and Swisher became a multi-county extension agent in 1983. In this

position, Dr. Swisher was responsible for linking the FSR/E and county agents' programs.

Approximately 20 IFAS research scientists and 9 extension agents had participated in the

project by 1984.(Schmidt)

1985-1992

In 1985 Dr. Jimmy Rich at the Live Oak ARC became the administrator of the

NFFSP funds and also was named principal investigator. This shift of administration

signified a shift in the program's direction, both in location and in orientation. Weekly team

meetings in Gainesville were no longer feasible and annual program priorities and work

plans were developed by the District Director, Suwannee and Columbia County Extension

Directors, a FAMU representative, multi-county agents, and the FSR/E Program

Coordinator at the research station. The emphasis of the program began to concentrate on

speciality crops such as Christmas trees, shitake mushrooms and pigeon peas, and on

marketing, areas not previously emphasized by the team. The focus of the program was








shifted away from agronomics and toward diversification due to the economic disadvantage

of Florida production of those crops. In addition, the focus on the small farmers was shifted

to include all farmers, since the agricultural crisis of the mid 1980s in northern Florida was

felt to affect all the farmers in the area. Students also became less involved during this time

frame. In 1988 Dr. Rich returned to research and Dr. Stephen Ryan assumed control of the

project. Current interests of the area ARCs are speciality vegetable crops, hydroponic and

greenhouse crops (Suwannee County is now the major greenhouse producer in the country

according to Dr. Ryan), aquaculture and mariculture, fruit crops, and shade and ornamental

trees. On-farm research is still being conducted and there remains a separate farming

systems budget. However, the Live Oak station's research activities are currently being

consolidated with the Quincy station's research, and Live Oak will now focus on extension

rather than research.



II. Evaluation

The methodology of farming systems involves a five-step approach: 1) identification

of specific problems on the basis of farm household input, 2) generation of alternative

solutions to these problems, 3) testing of promising solutions on-farm, 4) evaluation of

acceptability of the solutions, and 5) dissemination of the acceptable alternatives to the

producers. In general, it appears that in the early years the NFFSP was successful in most

of these steps, especially with projects such as the perennial peanuts. Due to changes in

funding however, the writer is not sure whether steps 3 5 were able to be fully completed.

Several positive results of the project were mentioned by everyone interviewed. The








most common one was the establishment of perennial peanut, which had been researched

for twenty years prior to the NFFSP but had not yet gained favor with the farmers. Through

the persistence of the NFFSP however, production has been established and is increasing

in north Florida. With regard to winter grains and tropical corn, the project reached

important conclusions and generated research that otherwise would not have been

conducted. Over time however, economics dictated the fate of these projects. Research on

sulfur deficiencies and fertilizer recommendations was -also undertaken and yielded

important information. It is felt that the farming systems approach made a gradual change

on how plant breeders assess their products, and in general resulted in enhanced and better

focused research. Problems were more clearly identified and targeted.

Besides research on crops, the NFFSP established better communication between the

farmers, research, and extension personnel, responded to farmers' concerns, tested existing

recommendations, and rapidly and accurately identified problems of the clientele. The status

of the faculty increased in the community and created a warmer relationship between the

farmers and faculty. Institutionally, the multi-county extension agent positions have been

established throughout the state and on-farm research has gained credibility and become

institutionalized to some extent. The project had established more collaborative linkages

between research, extension, and the team, although whether those linkages survive today

may be doubtful. Technology adoption and adoption of new ideas was increased, not only

by farmers but also by extension agents and researchers.

Methodologically, the project showed that the farming systems methodology could

work, and demonstrated the modifications needed to adjust the methodology to a United







States setting. It brought the idea of systems into research efforts as well as a

multidisciplinary focus. The project introduced the ideas of farming systems

research/extension to IFAS administrators and faculty and also established the University

of Florida as the center for farming systems education.

Problems of the NFFSP cover as broad a range as do the positive results. Initially,

the project team failed to establish communications with the research center and extension

personnel of the area, leading to misunderstanding and conflict. The team did not relay its

objectives clearly and was overly critical of existing policies. Also, the original team was

based in Gainesville and had no local agents to oversee the trials, leading to inefficiencies.

In addition, IFAS administrators were skeptical, as were researchers uncomfortable with the

lack of'control' in the on-farm trials. One person interviewed argued that since most of the

team members had little or no experience with the land grant institution, the project was

handled awkwardly and inappropriately designed.

Money and personnel were also problems. The USDA funding was only for three

years with a planned phasing in of state money. However, state budget woes constrained

the funding after the USDA grant ended, and dwindled throughout the decade creating

additional insecurity. Because of the short life of the USDA funding, personnel were lost

when that federal funding ceased. Student membership on the team also implied a high

turnover rate. Schmidt's paper points out the need for extra personnel such as summer and

winter agronomists, a field biologist, and a person to manage a computerized data system.

The change in administration in the mid 1980s deprived the project of its team focus,

which is a major component of the farming systems approach. The interdisciplinary focus







was also lost, as in 1984 the external review team expressed concern over the.lack of farm

management specialists to address economic considerations and the bigger picture. The

project was initially tied to small farms in an atypical region of Florida during a period of

economic downturn for agriculture, a problem that one team member feels hurt it from the

start.

Conflicts in the purpose of the project may also have caused problems. One

perspective was that the project was to be a test of the farming systems methodology, the

other that the project was geared to helping the small farmers. The selection of site reflects

the second goal, but may not have been best as a testing ground. Conceptually, the farming

systems methodology in this case lacked a long-term integration of social-economic research

activities, and policy and environmental considerations. The early part of the project

attempted solutions within the farm, while the later part also included considerations beyond

the farmgate. However, they are still lacking a social scientist in the area, so that biological

scientists alone are involved one of the shortcomings that the farming system approach is

designed to correct.



III. Does the NFFSP Still Exist?

On paper, and according to administrators, the North Florida Farming Systems

Project exists. It has its own budget, and carries on the spirit of on-farm research and

communication between farmers and researchers. However, several things seem to be

lacking that were integral parts of the original NFFSP as conceptualized in 1981. One is

the abandonment of annual evaluations. A major impact evaluation was planned over the







years 1984-1987, but reference to that has not been mentioned. Another is the level of

communication between ARC personnel and producers. When questioned about ARC-

farmer communication, an administrator informed me that the county agents and research

centers each had advisory committees composed of farmers who conveyed to the agents

farming concerns and interests. The number of poor, less influential farmers that sit on

these boards is the question to be answered, as is the kind of information gained from a

group of farmers sitting together around a table as opposed to individuals in their fields or

at their homes. The multidisciplinary approach seems to be lacking also. Due to the

funding freeze the station is not able to hire a social scientist, but does wish to eventually

hire a home economist to work with the families as farm units. One wonders about the

need for a sondeo given the changes in north Florida agriculture over the last decade, but

doubt that this aspect of the farming systems methodology has survived. As one person

analyzed the current situation, it appears that the stations have adopted the bits and pieces

of the farming systems approach that they find acceptable, just as farmers adopt only the

technology that is appropriate for them.

Yet another change in program is that the pilot study aspect of the original project,

and its emphasis on testing of the methodology, no longer seems to exist. This may very

well be a natural progression, since a pilot project is not designed to be a long-term project.

What we may be seeing now is the evolution of the NFFSP, shaped by changing priorities,

the economy, the administration, and other factors.








IV. Recommendations and Conclusions

Recommendations on how to improve a domestic farming systems program, as

originally conceived with the NFFSP, center around ensuring continuity, organizational

integration and a more holistic approach. Security of funds, especially federal funds or some

other type of budget that would not be as tenuous as the state funds, would have made a

significant difference. For one, it would have prevented the erosion of the team due to loss

of the USDA positions and thus would have helped keep the critical mass necessary to

maintain momentum. Increased money for travel would have enabled better communication

with the farmers and researchers in the region. The success of the perennial peanut

program is partly due to the continued involvement of members of the original NFFSP

team, but it has taken about 10 years to get that program established. Ten years should be

a minimum length of time for a project as a test of technology adoption and as a test of

methodology. One of the constraints on the NFFSP was the bad farming economy of the

early 1980s; a longer time period would have cut across business cycles and tested the

methodology for flexibility as well.

Communication and rapport among team members, researchers and extension agents

should be one of the primary concerns. "Consensus over the philosophy as well as the

components and approach to be followed appear necessary to successful

implementation...and...incorporation into the organization."(Woeste) An understanding of

how the new approach can fit into existing institutions will facilitate cooperation on the

project. The parent organization's overall goals should also be clearly defined, especially

vis-a-vis the project.







A criticism of farming systems in general has been leveled regarding its attention to

on-farm solutions and lesser consideration of the broader issues of institutional fit, economic

trends, and policy constraints. Within a market economy, declining prices and negative

profits should signal farmers to move out of a crop or type of farming. Biophysically,

perhaps land in north Florida has been mined to the point of decreasing returns to scale;

in this case the answer may not be more technology or more appropriate technology, but

rather re-training programs or different forms of development. It is not clear that this is the

case in north Florida, but the question is whether farming systems has the ability to address

these kind of issues. A truly multidisciplinary team, one that includes a political scientist,

sociologist or community development specialist, may help place the analysis in this broader

context. This may be one way in which farming systems differs from developed world to

developing world; in the U.S. our resources are extensive, the dependence on agriculture is

quite different than in most of the developing world, and a wider variety of alternatives

exist.

Farming systems research/extension has a lot to offer to agriculture in both the

developed and developing world. It is a shame that the project could not continue as

originally planned for a longer period of time, so that 1) more information could have been

gained on adapting the methodology to the United States and 2) the benefits of the farming

systems approach could have become more firmly ingrained in IFAS research and extension.







TIME LINE


1980-


1981


1982


1983


1984


1985


1986


1987



1988


1989


1990


1991


1992


USDA approved funding for NFFSP

Sondeo conducted
Approval of state funding, Dr. Swisher located in area

First annual in-house review conducted

Dr. Swisher appointed multi-county agent

Second in-house review; external review
Federal funding of NFFSP ended


Dr. Jimmy Rich became project coordinator


Dr. Swisher left multi-county agent position


Attempt to form multidisciplinary systems approach to management
of Live Oak research center


Dr. Ryan administers NFFSP











Begin consolidation of Live Oak research into Quincy station operations









SOURCES OF INFORMATION



Andrew, Chris; Department of Food and Resource Economics, Conversation of March 20,
1992.

App, James L., "How does Farming Systems Complement or Deter Research and Education
Efforts", mimeo

Dehm, Bruce, "Constraints to Technology Adoption on Small Farms in North Florida",
Master's Thesis, University of Florida, April 1984.

French, Edwin; Department of Agronomy, University of Florida, Conversation of April 2,
1992.

Goff, Richard L, "Program Planning Between the North Florida Team and County Extension
Personnel", mimeo, 1984?.

Hildebrand, Peter E.; Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida,
Conversation of April 3, 1992.

"Report of the Team for the Evaluation of the North Florida Farming Systems Research and
Extension Project, 1983" by Roberta van IHaeften, Robert K. Waugh, J.K. McDermott, and
D.D. Harpstead.

Rich, Jimmy R., conversation of April 5, 1992.

Rich, Jimmy R., "Farming Systems Research/Extension Program Structure and
Methodology", date unknown but probably 1987.

Rich, J.R. and M.E. Swisher, "Farming Systems in North Florida: The Complementarity to
Research, Planning Joint Activities, and Institutionalization of Farming Systems Concepts",
mimeo, date unknown

Ryan, Stephen, District Extension Director, District 2, Conversation of April 2, 1992.

Schmidt, Dwight Leigh, "Synthesis of North Florida Farming Systems Project, University of
Florida, 1981-1984", April 1984, mimeo.

Smith, M.F., Dwight Schmidt and Marilyn Swisher, "Evaluation Plan and Caveats: Florida
FSRE Program",


t







Swisher, Marilyn; Multicounty agent for the project. Conversation of March 21, 1992.

Wake, John L., "The Cost of Learning by Doing Effect on Technology Adoption", Master's
Thesis, University of Florida, 1984.

Woeste, John T., "Domestic Farming Systems: Looking Back Running Ahead", paper
presented to the Domestic Farming System Conference, University of Florida, September
10, 1984.




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