UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA 32611
FOOD AND RESOURCE ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT
White paper on farming systems as an area
of excellence in IFAS
December 18, 1985
For the past 15 years, IFAS has been supporting and
strengthening a multi-departmental and interdisciplinary effort
which has culminated in the current farming systems program.
This program provides national and international leadership to
helping solve farm problems in an ever increasingly complex
and interdependent world. It is also helping to solve
problems for some of Florida's farmers.
Because the program is heavily dependent upon one outside
donor, USAID, we face a challenge in being able to capitalize
on the resources which have been accumulated and upon our
Attached is the white paper you requested which discusses
the requirements and the potential benefits of structuring a
more permanent center of excellence in farming systems in
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER
COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE
AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATIONS
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE
SCHOOL OF FOREST RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION
TEAC.IJHING RESEARCHII XTNIO.I
CENTER FOR TROPICAL AGRICULTURE
Farming Systems Research and Extension:
an Area of Excellence at the University of Florida
The State of Florida is highly complex. International
trade and business permeate our economy while migration from
other countries and states influences our human resource
situation. Florida's ecological niche coincides closely with
numerous tropical and sub-tropical countries, particularly in
the Caribbean. We share common problems. Furthermore,
agricultural interdependence with the urban and ecological
environments is confounded by both domestic and international
conditions that alter agricultural production patterns and
needs. As a result, the agricultural system in the State of
Florida becomes more complex daily.
IFAS has the responsibility to address agricultural
research needs spanning the spectrum from basic and
specialized component research to agricultural systems
research in a manner that will be beneficial to the State's
agricultural sector and its rural and urban communities.
However, recent experience indicates spotty performance in
problem solving for the agricultural sector.
The problem for agricultural scientists in addressing the
needs of the agricultural sector is one of an increasingly
complex system at a time when greater specialization is being
created by discipline-driven scientists who must compete for
research funds though an ever more narrow focus. Early in
this century, the institution which now is called IFAS was
less specialized and more able to cope with general problem
solving for a largely rural and relatively less complex
sector. Our agricultural systems (the sector) and farming
systems (the farms) were challenged by many fewer interrelated
issues with the international, urban and market communities.
IFAS is well suited for specialized research in both the macro
and micro spheres. But it is less prepared to deal with
whole-system complexties even though these whole-systems
concerns have the greatest political, financial and temporal
implications to the long-run future of IFAS, the UF and
Florida Agriculture. We must help the specialized and capable
IFAS scientists contribute to solving complex, systems-related
To work with the agricultural sector as a systems
oriented problem set, it is necessary to consider agricultural
systems as agro-ecological concerns with socio-economic
components. Within agricultural systems are farming systems
with complex socio-economic and biophysical conditions
affecting production and management within a farm unit but
influenced by the community and the market economy. Within
farming systems are cropping systems and livestock systems
that signify multi-enterprise combinations influenced by
ecological, climatological and physical resource conditions.
In this constrained context there is less concern about the
socio-economic and household issues that influence the farm
itself. Finally, and more specialized, is the focus on
commodity or component activity with disciplinary and
sub-disciplinary specialization as-the rule. The greatest
amount of emphasis is given nationally and by IFAS to
component research. While a necessary condition, commodity
and component research cannot achieve the ultimate
productivity and production advances desired without
assistance from cropping systems, farming systems, and
agricultural systems research. As an example, bio-technology
research, besides sustained financing, needs a strong farming
systems or adaptive research base to make it productive to the
Development of a farming systems program at the
University of Florida dates from the late 1970s, with interest
in the "approach" by IFAS administrators being manifest in the
early 1970s. In 1972, when IFAS International Programs was
becoming markedly multidisciplinary in philosophy, K.R.
Tefertiller, as Chairman of Food and Resource Economics, hired
P.E. Hildebrand to work in El Salvador in a project that was
to develop the multiple cropping systems program of that
country's research institution. Both C.O. Andrew and Peace
Corps Volunteer E.C. French (later to be hired by the
University of Florida), were also identified with that
project. In 1980, as Vice-President, Tefertiller named
Hildebrand as Coordinator of a then new Farming Systems
Program in IFAS to be working with Andrew and French among
others. Many others such as M. Swisher, who trained under H.
Popenoe; R.K. Waugh, who was in Guatemala with Hildebrand
during the late 1970s; and S. Poats, also a former student
from the University of Florida and who spent several years in
the International Potato Center working on farming systems
types of activities, have been involved.
The present Farming Systems Program at the University of
Florida includes resident instruction which offers a farming
systems minor for M.S. and Ph.D. candidates (see list of
faculty qualified to serve as representatives of the farming
systems minor); farming systems assistantships provided to
both foreign and American students; a farming systems project
in north Florida which has been a model for other domestic
farming systems programs in several states; international
contracts in Malawai and Cameroon which have farming systems
components; and the Farming Systems Support Project which has
had global responsibility for technical assistance, training,
networking and state-of-the-art research in farming systems.
The FSSP with eight full-time farming systems professionals is
supported by 63 faculty associates on this campus as well as
about 500 professional associates from 25 support entities (21
other universities and four international consulting firms).
This USAID funded project provides technical support for many
of the approximately 260 farming systems projects funded by
USAID and other major donors in Latin America, Asia and
Africa. Clearly, the University of Florida has international
and national leadership in the farming systems area and the
resources for a continuing center of excellence.
Much of the farming systems activity at UF at the present
time is dependent upon a single donor -- USAID. If the FSSP
were to be terminated, the University would stand to lose many
of its farming systems resources, and as a result, its
recognized national and international leadership position in
this area would decline. Our challenge is to capitalize on
the resources presently available by structuring a center of
excellence that would have a broader funding base and strong
support from throughout IFAS.
Key elements would be to:
1. Enhance support for the north Florida FSR/E project. This
would require the incorporation of more counties in the
present area to make it more effective and efficient and to
capitalize on the methodology, resources and experience which
already exist. The FSSP, with recognized national and
international farming systems expertise, should become a
consultative resource for the north Florida FSR/E project in
2. Continue and/or enhance support for the resident
instruction and assistantship program in farming systems.
This would include support of the interaction of students as a
research resource base in the north Florida FSR/E project and
provide the opportunity for more faculty participation and
utilization of their expertise in a systematic problem solving
effort for Florida's farmers. It would also involve increased
interaction with the IARCs and the CRSPs as a research
resource base for our farming systems students.
3. Create a facility for providing farming systems short
courses on a continual basis for a wide ranging clientele.
This would include short courses for faculty of UF who are
interested in obtaining an understanding of farming systems
and how the concept might help them in solving problems of
4. Contract for a "showcase" international farming systems
research and extension project which would call upon the
expertise available in our faculty and would complement the
present educational project in Cameroon.
5. Search for additional funding support for the FSSP (or its
successor) to help stabilize its activities' and provide more
incentive to the professional resources in it at present.
This may require a pro-active attitude in Latin America and
Asia in addition to Africa. It would also involve working
with the World Bank, the Interamerican Development Bank and
other donors who support farming systems projects throughout
6. Augment the farming systems publishing and documentation
program at UF and continue the FSSP biodata bank (about 800
entries) as a resource important to our activities.
Specific points to be considered if we elect to pursue
institutionalization of our farming systems capability are:
1. Agree upon Farming Systems as an area of excellence around
which domestic and international programming can emerge.
2. Identify a leader for the effort.
3. Identify an administrative advisory committee representing
organizational functions (Deans, Department heads, etc.) and
general disciplinary balance with a scope sufficient to
address training and research revisions necessary for the
4. Identify a technical advisory committee charged with keeping
IFAS abreast of state-of-the-art work in farming systems
methodology and practice.
5. Establish a self supporting base for short term training
including short course and visitor programs at UF, and service
to OICD/USDA and others for regular short course offerings.
6. Establish a program to provide counsel to US and third world
universities in systems education including developing
agricultural systems and farming systems courses coupled with
curriculum development support.
7. Develop a farming systems communication network of research
and training professionals through a newsletter, documentation
and publication program.
8. Establish a resource base for eminent scholars (retired as
well as active career people) to take leaves in IFAS to write.
and study the topic of Agricultural Systems/Farming
Systems/Cropping Systems/Livestock Systems by interacting with
our resource base and with Florida farmers.
9. Actively seek funding for a Chair in Agricultural and Farming
Systems to further strengthen research and training
10. Create core funding from State sources to initiate the effort
as a marketable service base.
11. Write a protocol defining state, national and international
balance in program implementation.
12. Provide facilities for short-term training, staff offices,
visiting professors, documentation and reference materials,
and transport of visitors.
13. Seek improved fiscal support at the State level.
FARMING SYSTEMS MINOR
FACULTY HW) CAN SERVE AS REPRESENTATIVES OF THE MINOR
Jack Van Horn
James C. Jones (FSSP)
Della McMillan (CAS)
Susan Poats (FSSP)
Marianne Schnmnk (CLAS)
Entomology and Nematology
Ellis Matheny (Cmeroon)
Jimmy Rich (AREC, Live Oak)
Food Science and Human Nutrition
Marilyn Swisher (Live Oak)
Food and Resource Economics
Jose Alvarez (AREC Belle Glade)
Dan Gait (FSSP)
Ken McDermott (FSSP)
Jon van Blockland
Hunt Davis (CAS)