Toward Biological and Community Integration:
Directions for Michigan's Sustainable Agriculture
Richard R. Harwood
C.S. Mott Foundation Chair of Sustainable Agriculture-
Michigan State University
An Overview of the Range of Farm Paradigm
Michigan agriculture as it evolves toward sustainability, is changing on multiple
fronts, responding to changing markets, environmental standards and social expectations.
Farm organization and patterns of production can be grouped into types, with characteristics
defined by the paradigm (or pattern) chosen by farm managers.
The five farm systems types gleaned from current literature, group farms by
organizational paradigm. Michigan agriculture is comprised of a mixture of those types.
The types differ in their levels of biological integration and of community interactions, both
social and economic (see Figure 1). Those pattern types merge into each other, but have
commonly accepted identity:
These are typically large-scale, sometimes vertically integrated enterprises with huge
Capital investment, farmed on an extremely extensive scale. They have few crops or separate
production enterprises. Inputs dominate or control the biology of the system. These are the
farms described so frequently by former Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, during the
1970s and 1980s. They are the outgrowth of the directions of the 60s through 80s of farm
expansion for efficiency of large scale. They produce huge volumes of product for national
and global markets, usually at reasonably low cost. Capital investment in machinery and
chemical replaces labor wherever possible. Such farms are often criticized for their adverse
environmental and social impacts. Scientific efforts to lower their environmental impact
revolve around fine-tuning of inputs, in the future perhaps through "site-specific"
management. They contribute to low market-cost protein and carbohydrate.
Dr. Thomas Urban, Chairman and President of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.,
has defined a vision for the evolution of a portion of the industrial farm segment toward what
could be called a specialty business model, patterned exclusively after an industrial enterprise
(Urban, 1991). These farms would produce identity-preserved, high-quality product for
national and global markets. At least a portion of such a market segment is seen by Dr.
Urban to be of high quality, low to zero chemical input production to meet market demand.
Biologically Integrated Systems
Under pressure for greater efficiency of production, reduction of cost and for
reduction of environmental loading, many producers are moving toward (or enhancing) the
biological integration of their systems. Use of crop rotations, cover crops, integrated pest
management, landscape diversity and a host of practices contribute to those goals (Harwood,
1984). In Michigan we are developing a strong ecological base for these integrative
directions. The principles of ecological interaction include soil-based, landscape level and
crop and animal species interaction types of relationships. This approach includes the fine-
tuning (selection, timing, amounts, method of application, etc.) of inputs combined with the
"structuring" of biological integration. "Integration" is translated into specific rotation, cover
crop, animal grazing, and landscape diversity types of practices. Community interaction
must be, at a minimum, understanding and acceptance.
Sustainable Agriculture (Flora and Ikerd)
The most current, and broad concept of sustainable agriculture is one that includes a
significant element of "quality of life". This concept was articulated in 1993 by a national
committee appointed to come up with a definition and approach to implementation of the
1990 farm bill mandate. As stated, that quality of life concept includes emphasis on personal
interaction at the family, but particularly at the community level. The broad concept of
sustainable agriculture seems to include the biological integration, cited above, but also a
major element of community interaction through markets, flow of goods and services,
support of local institutions and of local community empowerment and interaction. In a
sense it is a "value-added" approach at the community level, enhancing the non-economic as
well as the economic value to the community of local agriculture. This agriculture serves a
broad range of needs at the local level and is highly important to quality of life.
I have given this name to that portion of agriculture as defined by Wendell Berry,
Wes Jackson and a host of others. The integrative values of the biologically and socially
integrated types are taken to greater extreme,' to the point that land ethic and a social ethic
become the driving forces. Berry's "a sense of place" overrides most other considerations.
Family and community are the key determinants of ultimate success.
State Agriculture as a Composite
All of the above farm paradigm types can be found in Michigan. These occur
because of different land types which permit or discourage large holdings, capital investment
strategies and opportunities, market structure and opportunity, the presence of urban and
rural markets, differences in environmental fragility and a broad range of social, political and
regulatory factors. One could make strong argument that sustainability of agriculture, on a
statewide level, is significantly enhanced by an appropriate balance of these types, each
responding to different conditions and needs (see Figure 2). That balance (in terms of
acreage, total value or other indicators) changes with land type, with proximity to community
and to urban areas. The balance is (and should be) quite different in Vermont than it is in
Michigan or Iowa. It changes over time. In Michigan we are evolving rapidly for a variety
of reasons, toward biological integration. There are strong forces also compelling movement
toward social integration, but directions here are less clear. The relationships and some of
the driving factors are shown in Figure 3.
The Role of Public Institutions in this Change
Institutional role is changing markedly, depending on the sector of attention.
Specialized industrial farms are receiving research attention in terms of input fine-tuning,
site-specific soil management and a range of other technologies. This sector receives major
attention, of course, from the larger agribusiness corporations.
The biologically integrated farms are the focus of the great bulk of agroecology,
integrated pest management and the sustainable agriculture research thrusts. Cover crop use,
crop rotations, management of soil biota for soil quality, manipulating pest-predator
relationships and weed seed bank shifts are at the center of Michigan State University's
program in sustainable agriculture. Integrated farms are the focus of the Michigan
Agricultural Stewardship Association programs. The research on organic agriculture fits in
There is attention from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and MSU Extension
in advancing local food systems, supporting pick-your-own operations, farmer markets,
community-supported agriculture and other direct-marketing avenues. Overall, however, the
work on community integration is really in its infancy.
MSU is heavily involved in biological research, and is now moving toward
community-level research and toward leadership training and community organization. These
directions seem highly appropriate in moving toward biological and social integration within
the context of Michigan's evolving technological, economic and social environment.
Positioning in Agricultural Paradigm
specialty business model
(C. B. Flora)
quality of life focus
high regulatory control
low cost raw product
high biological integration
low community integration
high community integration
A - -
national and global market
national and global
local and regional
Paradigm Balance in Michigan (composite)
"Sustainable" Agriculture for the late 1990's
R. Harwood, December 1993
with strict environmental
u ,e "Sustainable"
Increasing specialty market opportunity
(proximity, specialty channels) and/or
pressure for community integration and
quality of life
Sustainable Farming Types Resulting from
Environmental, Social and Economic Determinants
Flora, C. B. 1990. Sustainability of Agriculture and Rural Communities. pp.343-359. In:
Francis, C.A., C.B. Flora, L.D. King (eds.) Sustainable Agriculture in Temperate
Zones. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.
Ikerd, J. E. 1993. Sustainable Agriculture: Farming in harmony with the biosphere. In:
Johnson, L.A. (ed.) Sustainable Agriculture Enhancing the Environmental Quality of
the Tennessee Valley Region Through Alternative Farming Practices. University of
Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. pp. 12-23.
Harwood, R.R. 1985. The integration efficiencies of cropping systems. pp. 64-75. In:
Edens T.C., C. Fridgen and S.L. Battenfield (eds.) Sustainable agriculture and
integrated farming systems. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI.
Urban, T. N. 1991. Agricultural industrialization: It's inevitable. Choices (Fourth
Quarter). pp. 4-6.