REPORT OF THE TEAM FOR THE EVALUATION
OF THE NORTH FLORIDA FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION PROJECT, 1983
A team of four was invited by the Institute of Food and Agricultural
Sciences (IFAS) of the University of Florida to review the North Florida
Farming Systems Research and Extension Project (NF-F.SR/E), from June 27, 1983
through July 1. At the' same time, the project held its annual internal review
and planning sessions. The review was conducted by: (a) participating in
review sessions with administration, University staff members, and project
personnel, (b) interviews with staff and administration people and (c)
visiting the project area in two northern Florida counties, ;:here there was
opportunity to dialog with team members and farmer collaborators. The review
team interacted with both research and extension personnel.
Several factors led to the development of the NF FSR/E Project. The
University of Florida has a long history of international activity in
agriculture. During the late sixties and the seventies, production,
productivity and the well-being of small, limited resource farmers in the
developing countries became a major concern of both national and international
agricultural research personnel as well as national and international
organizations that support development. activities.
This concern led to several activities in different parts of the world
with some common threads of purpose, strategy and methodologies which have
generically become known as the farming systems approach to research, th
farming systems perspective and other terms such as Farning Syste-s Rese-arc
(FSR) or (FSR/E) to include extension'. One of the comn.moi thr(j'ads of thi
approach are the interaction of scientists from both the biological and s-.-'a
science disciplines to understand the farm as a whole, rat-cer than th
isolated study of components, and the recognition that farmers can becon
participants in the evaluation and selection of technology.
The University had contact with this renewed wholistic approach, iani
became interested in it as a contribution to rural development world-.ide
However, the -University, recognizing their responsibilities to agriculture i;
the State of Florida with a highly varied agricultural industry, .isked if thi:
approach was also applicable in their setting.
With the support of USDA, the North Florida FSR/E project ::as initi-ace
first with an interest in the application of the systems perspective to l-ca]
conditions, and second to gain experience and use the project as a bse foi
teaching programs to strengthen their capabilities both at home and abr-ad.
II. Purpose of the University of Florida Farming Systc-is Initiative
The FSR/E initiative was designed to serve two purposes. The first was
to test the FSR/E concept in a domestic setting. This involves an
understanding of selected farming systems and, on the basis of this
understanding, to define needs and to identify critical problems and
constraints. The second purpose was to produce a beneficial impact on the
institutional structure and function of selected farming systems of the
specific area of experimentation. The experimn._ritation related dr-ctly t;" the
technological problems of Florida farmers, and to programs in international
assistance of the University of Florida.-
A. Local Farming Area.
1. A significant strength of the fari'ing system model that has evolved
from this project has been its ability to focus upon critical issues
and to assist in the design of research and
educational/denonstrationial field activities. The field program of
Dr. Mickey Swisher is an excellent example of the appli_:ation of a
solid understanding of production technology methodologies to the
problems of producers who seek to achieve cost effective and
practical levels of production from their management units. The net
result of these activities has been the identification of a series
of practical problems which related to the acceptance of new
technologies or the modification of current production practices to
make more efficient use of existing resources.
2. A second major factor in the farming systems program which can be
identified with the in-the-field activities is the establishment of
community linkages. In many cases these do not appear to be new
linkages between producers and the traditional extension services
but rather It has been an ability to address the questions raised
and the concerns expressed through on-farm testing of technology and
the sharing of existing technologies. It has, in reality, alre.id
realized some of the desired multiplier effect by encou1raing
individuals to extend the area of demonstration, move aggresU.'el)
to utilize the technology under test and to be receptive to a nei
idea such as the planting of early maturing tropical corn later ir
the s;-son after the normal period of corn planting has passed.
3. The farming systems group has made excellent progress- in the
establishment of de1monstration/applied research progra-s in
off-station locations. This appears to have filled a distinct void
associated with an increased emphasis being placed on the so called
"basic" or "fundamental" aspects of the research spectrum. The role
of applied research in farming systems has been to seek appropriate
components of modern technology which can be utilized effectively
across a range of levels or which can serve multiple functions in
the operations of the limited resource producer. When these
technologies can be matched both in scale and intensity to the needs
of the limited resource producer, they can assume unique values by
affecting several components in the total farming system.
An example of this principle has been the incorporation of the
wheat variety, Florida 301, into the farming systems. It has value
as a winter forage and it utilizes the early spring season to
produce a grain crop which can be sold or fed during a period when
feed grains are normally in short supply. This matching of new
and/or appropriate technology to 'the existing physical, biological
and sociological envirconnents is a major accomplishment.
4. The two-county area of north Florida chosen for the development of
the farming system initiative contains large areas of sandy soils
inherently low in available plant growth nutrients and water holding
capacity. Strategies of production are, in many cases, as important
as the application of production technology. Farming syste-s
programs have attempted to simultaneously address multiple factors
in the farmers production equation. Since it is not always possible
to evaluate each component of the system in a distinct and separate
category, it-becomes essential for scientists familiar with results
of single component research to be involved in the measurement of
results and the formulation of recommendations based on these tests.
5. During the course of the review, numerous reports were made on field
research and demonstration activities in the two-county area, often
as graduate student thesis problems. Other reports consisted of
measurements or observations related to existing recommendations
being used in educational-demonstration programs. These activities
were attempts to address specific questions of cooperators or to
collect new knowledge about particular practices in the region.
There has been an attempt to utilize information collected from
these activities as bases for revised extension recommendations.
-Unfortunately, this may have been done without fully examining the
principles upon which the original recommendations had been based.
The team encountered several examples of these inconsistencies.
Soil fertilizer recommendations have been generalized and hive
evolved from a body of information including soil test results, I,:
use history, cropping intention, and management level. T
usefulness of a generalized reconniendation for fertilizer ,p -'I
is an appropriate topic for further examination.
Wheat was, for all practical purposes, a new crop in :
region. The new variety Florida 301 came at a time when fE-.-in
enterprises were in flux, winter pasture was in demand and a r.:
existed for a cash/feed grain source. The Farming SyseI..s group
used these circumstances to test both the efficiency and cos
effectiveness of the existing recommendations and contribute
additional knowledge to the total fertilizer recom-endation ict::-e
This is an excellent example of the need for participation of th
soil fertility specialist. There is a great need for disciplir.
scientists to incorporate, where appropriate, the new findings int
the generalized soil fertility recommendations.
Questions on the date of wheat planting clearly needs to b
understood from a multidisciplinary point of view. Major areas o
concern are related to diseases control or avoidance, forag
production, cost of production, grain yield and net profit. Thi:
array of problems cannot satisfactorily be answered from limited,
technology approaches. Any recommendation brought forward will havy
to be accepted as one possible answer from among several possible
answers based on a specific set of needs or expectations.
A major concern in this area to the review co:mnittee vws thi
apparent lack of participation of fErm management special sts in the
economic considerations related to farm analysis and project
evaluations. Since each of the farms studied in the project
included a variety of income sources, overall economic analysis may
be a more useful diagnostic to-ol that any production coIponent or
group of individual co.yponents.
To adequately address these concerns it will be necessary to
focus a larger pool of experiences than would normally be achieved
through a li-nited number of field trials conducted in a restricted
areA. The goal nust be to achieve maximum participation from
existing research programs and to support field tests and
observations with more intensive analyses and evaluation procedures
than would be traditional under the controlled conditions of an
appropriate laboratory setting.
6. The team identified a number of programs both within IFAS and wih
IFAS collaboration that appear to have much in common with the FSR/E
oriented activity in north Florida. Several of these shared the
'projects' orientation to small scale, limited capital farming
systems. These were not studied, but we received clear indication
that an FSR/E collaboration might have been productive. Of
particular relevance are those of Florida A&M University staff
oriented specifically to small scale systems and dealing mainly in
field research and extension.
.Also, identified but not studied were projects in integrated
pest management, minlinu m tillage, farm management and multip
cropping which. are oriented to one or more production : system
in some manner. They appear to be substantive in nature
co.-pared to F SR/E which is a methodological approach. Al.
Thcse may apply a systems approach to but not from as broad
base as in the case of FSR/E. For example, the IPM studio,
crop pest relationships and would not be expected to vi
the whole farming system to the same extent as the FSRY
project. However, since they use a systems approach it shou
be easy to relate such projects to the broader Farning Syst,_-r
Approach. FSR/E should maintain a close working relations
with these activities, since, the FSR/E approach has much t
offer to projects with parallel interests. Certainly fai
management is of vital importance to FSR/E, although current]
we discovered no collaboration.
7. The University of Florida has been assigned a major leadership ro]
in the international technical assistance program of the Unite
States in the form of the Farming Systems Support Project (FSSP)
-Personnel of IFAS, both through University projects and through
their participation in other technical assistance projects hav
played leading roles in the evolution of the FSR/E concept. Thi
concentration of talent and leadership resulted in a USDA grant fo
this domestic effort. It is likely that the domestic effort ha
some influence on the University's being awarded the leadership rol
8. At least two courses are currently being taught in FSR/E, one by Dr.
Peter Rildebrand on Methodology and one by Dr. Robert '...h on
Organization and Mangagement. These are editions of materials
included in the international training courses. A large percentage
of the students in these courses are international students.
9. International activities in FSR/E at the University are at a much
greater scale than are the domestic FSR/E activities, and the
domestic program frequently enlists the services of personnel
engaged essentially in international work. However, to the extent
feasible the domestic and international programs are maintained
independent of each other.
10. The Extension Service has developed considerably more activity 'n.n
interest in FSR/E than has its research counterpart. Of the two
principal functionaries, Dr. Marilyn Swisher is employed full time
by Extension as a multi-county agent, and Dr. E. C, French has a
joint Extension-Research appointment in the Department of Agronony.
Apparently there is an increasing interest in some segments of the
research component. Dr. James Rich, acting director of the Live Oak
Research Center has an active involvement. His involvement is an
indication that there is no significant jurisdictional issue in the
area of testing and adaptive work on innovations released by the
11. IFAS has an extensive network of centers which could perform a
useful function in the expansion strategy for FSR/E. Five or six
are known as Agricultural Res-irch !'nd E-iucation Centies (.'1tC) 7r
a dozen or so are Agricultural Research Cencers (ARC's). The ArC'
are part of the Research Service and their personnel ans:-.r '.-ctL
to the Dean of r.search. The discipline oriented Depart,--m.ts h:-
personnel posted in the AREC.'s, frequently with jotn
research--et'tension appointments. 'A*e visited only ,
our observations do not have a good feel for the function of th..'s
centers as sites of adaptive research or the scope of. their
activities in problem identification and needs rasess.s:-nt.
12. The North Florid-a FSR/E project is dealing vith t:o ov)ral
variables in its experimentation. One variable is the FSR/
concept. Since we saw only the one project, we do not know th
extent to which FSR/E differs from other IFAS research t.nd eateisio
efforts. There is an indication that in so-'.e cases there i
relatively little effort on the part of researchers to integrate,
technology into the actual production systems, leaving this t,
farmers and/or extension agents. On the other hand, -we receive
reports.where extension is conducting highly sophisticated
"demonstration trials" for the purpose of generating technologies,
Also there 'appears to be, at least in some counties, trials to studio
the use of new crops, such as blueberries, for example.
: The FSR/E project is also dealing with the so-called limited
resource farmer, a group that apparently has not been active among.
the traditional extension clientele. FSR/E.seems to be asking if
there is technology moce appropriate to the needs of this
non-part cipant group. Since the project is also lo'-ailing with the
so-called Limited resource farrier that has not been an active
extension clientele, t.:o vair.bl cs are under test. while e s'-.e IFAS
personnel recogaizes FSR/E in a broader context, the predominate
IFAS thinking associ-ites :;/E very closely with low resource
f ari rs.
IV. Recor-aendations and Conclusions
This section is in two parts. The recommendations are summarized in the
first part and discussed in considerable detail in the second part.
A. Summary of Recommnendations
1. Since FSR/E appears to have achieved certain results and attained a
significant creditibility among various groups, it should be
continued in IFAS.
2. Since FSR/E is more in the nature of a concept or methodological
approach than it is a substantive program, deliberate actions need
to be taken to enlist increased participation of core, discipline
oriented faculty in FSR/E activities.
3. FSR/E needs an institutional home, a minimum structure, and
legitimacy. This will involve executive endorsement and protection,
a leader to provide professional advocacy, a set of expectations on
the part of faculty, and an appropriate reward structure.
4. Since there are several other activities or prog'r.:s in IF\S wit
ch-racteristics simi lar to FSR/E, appropriate linkages an
col vibrationss need to be established. One set of thTese is relatc
to the small scale farm clientele. Another set relates to FSR/E b
vi rtuie of the fact that the programs have an orientation t
5. Since FSR/E has shown considerable promise and represents
concentration of resources that cannot be justified indefinitely, a
expansion strategy is needed. It appears that expansion at a
adequate rate and intensity can be achieved with modifications i
the IFAS structure that can be accomodated without unreasonabl
B. Discussion of Recommondations
1. FSR/E should be continued in IFAS
The North Florida FSR/E project has proven the FSP./E c-nc ep
by at least one criteria. It has won, if not acceptance, at leas;
serious attention from the executives of IFAS as well as from middle
management and from many of the individuals involved. The concept
of "system" has been correctly articulated in this review b
personnel of various management levels. The concept of needs
assessment has been recognized as well as the recognition there has
to be discrimination among needs of various sectors of the
clientele. A new clientele is being reached, but low-income,
low-resource, poor farmers should not be considered the primary
domain of the FSR/E concept. It may be that current FSR/-E
methodologies are most useful in this segment of the farming sector.
It may also be that FSR/E is currently more closely associ.itid i.-th
that sector than with any other. But the concept of FSR/E doe r.ot
bind research and extension to low resource fannrers.
Only two concepts are essential to FSR/E. One is that
research activities are derived from specific and important needs of
a farming system. This requires the research service to know and
understand the farming system. The second essential aspect is that
improved technologies be tested in the farming system in which it is
expected to function and by criteria of the system. Everything else
is elaboration, improvement, strengthening, useful, but not
Initial responses to the north Florida project were not as
positive as they might have been. Apparently little thought was
given as the outset of the North Florida project to how people in
the existing institutional system would react to the project. Many
people with whom the project had to work or should have worked
appear to have been confused. Some apparently were even hostile.
One reason cited for their reactions was that people did not have a
clear understanding of the objectives of the project -- whether they
were similar or different, compatible or competitive, with what they
were already doing. No doubt some people were afraid that the
project was designed to supplant their work and felt threatened.
Others were not sure why the project was being initiated since from
their perspective they were alr-eady doiog most or ill o[ t\c. thii:,g
that the FSR/E was supposed to do. Not having anticipated thi.t suc
problems night arise, project persunn'el were not eqL 2.,, L 1 '
with them effectively. Rather then deoFsing potential conflicts
for e:a.a ple, some project personn..l p : :n:ly r .... :d o n ,' :ion
about the legitimacy of their w'ork by pointing out -aI L 'T f.ailre,
in the existing system.
Attitudes towards the project have'e;olv.d in a. favorahl(
direction. Interest in the project h.-is "j'cC,. "ost of the initial
hostility appears to have disai'p ar.:i. S? .e 'ho *,-re initially
skeptical, even hostile are no'. cooper atii;g .:.th th-- project, so5 m-
even with enthusiasm. Others, although still ?s-'ptical, recognize
that the project does have potential and are beginning to cooperate,
Much of this change in attitudes appears to have ti.ken police quite
recently. This change appears to be due to the fact that thE
project has begun to produce some concrete results. It may also be
due to a recent organizational change which had the effect of
integrating a member of the project team more effectively into the
research and extension structure existing in the two counties in
which the project operates. There has been a determined, specific
effort to improve communication on the part of the project leader.
There still remains, however, a large group of core faculty
and scientists who have not been drawn into the project. In some
instances this has worked to the detriment of the project. With
more involvement of farm management specialists, for example, the
project could have h.-en further along in its devel pment of farm
enterprriss, combined enterprise ind total farm budgets. As it is,
the a-.-lysis of the econ. ir, dim-ensions of the farm systems being
studied is one of the <. :Lr components of the project. More
involve-cait by a I ..-r .-r '..L- of core faculty dpd scientists will
he necessary if the ;/C ....,-.:ept is to be successfully integrated
into the total LF'S system.
Although the FSR/E approach has to. reach many more people in I
the existing' institutional structure it appears to have had a (
positive impact on the thinking of those it has reached, including i
.aaniy in t'he administrative structure.
The people from related disciplines who have been involved
with the project cite examples of positive contributions made by the
project to their work. Most of these did not involve people doing
different things; for most people FSR/E has meant their giving more
emphasis to certain things thai they have always done -- more
emphasis on interdisciplinary work, more emphasis on the potential
interactions among crops/enterprises physically as well as
biologically and more emphasis on involving farmers in the design
and evaluation of programs. The observation was also made that the
FSR/E concept could help Increase the efficiency of the existing
institutional system, i.e., it provided a way to identify research
topics and modify field studies more quickly with less lead time.
The things that the evaluation team saw and heard during the week
substantiates these observations.
Taken all together, the FSR/E is a mechani`m for strengtYienri
the linkages between the technology innovation system and ii
To a large extent, IFAS is working in an FSR/E mode. Ti
FSR/E concept is inherent in the land-grant tradition. It ha.s her
"discovered" (or "rediscovered") in overseas operations, in pa;
because technical assistance personnel and programs were not
oriented to technology per se than to its role in firm .m3n-age
and production. Further, even though central to the landi-gr.a
concept, it had never been recognized as a conscious, distinct
There may be two reasons for the current experi.-entation wit
the re-introduction FSR/E into the U.S. agricultural syste-m. One i
that as both the land-grant institution and the structure and need
of agriculture has changed, there could -well be an "institltiona
drift" away from some of the traditional concepts. Anot'-er reason
for the re-introduction is that there may be better m.thodologies o
the chance to develop improved methodologies of linking th
university research/education systems to the various productio
systems. If it is now a deliberative process rather than a
intuitive one, there may be significant opportunity to develop
We have seen only a tiny segment of IFAS and only a tin
segment of on,. clientele group. The team believes that IFAS ';
using its re:iources efficiently in addressing other syst,.;:-". It
must be made clear the FSR/E ca,, b. co.e.a helpful approach t.- :' 1
with a system once the decision has been made to seek to influence
that system. It loes not have a lot to offer on hotw prioriti:.s :..ir
established. Su.-e farming systems will get attention and -o:;e "-ill
be ignored, and institutional mni%.g-int must assume rspoo.sibility
for the choice.
With all these caveats, the team's judgment is t'-at the
activity should be maintained, that deliberate attention tc
strengthening linkages with specific clientele groups ;-ill likely be
a profitable course of action for IFAS.
2. Broader Core Faculty Participation
If FSR/E is a concept rather than a program, it needs to have
a diffuse, pervasive impact on the way IFAS does its business. The
following diagram helps show a manner by which the work of IFAS
could be affected and a broader participation achieved.
Farming Systems Research and Extension is important in the
problem choice or needs assessment area and again in the last stages
of the technology innovation process, testing in the production
system. Meanwhile, conventional research is most intense in the
research and technology development functions.
\.O CC ;
Communication/education 2 =
Demonstration of results- <-.
Applicallon of finding .
Farmer evaluation -
Farmer testing /
Analyses of findhg on
Testing new technologies
New discoveries 5
Develc,-,ent cf new
Testing existing tec Ci .- :
Problem identifcaot n A
physical, bio;c: ic.,
social, econc-.:c g
relc c .. ..
A.vcrcnU .j' 01' 1 .._Uj
soc,.y \ /
Relatively minor adjusLtrn-nts in the shape of Ct, con:'.-nt ional
re:;, rch curve could jive -.ore att-.ntion to the t.:- FS i :-nents
on the horizontal axis.
This adjustment in sh:,pe c ; :n csult frcio : in *:;cut ive
actions. Top management of I'AS c in let it 1- '2o :: t c gjihoit the
faculty that work in these air.eas is acceptable. TI c'-ild go as far
as saying work in these areas is expected. Still another
alternative is to increase the number of j-'int r-: 'rcih-extets ion
appointments,-especially in the ARC's, since -any FS:/E functions
can be performed as well by extersion as by research personnel.
3. An administrative home for FSK/E
The Departments of IFAS, together with the IFAS Extension
Service, have the necessary comjpoiients to develop a farming systems
approach. However, the philosophy and the methodologies necessary
to implement the systems approach are not auto-.atically applied.
The systems approach requires guidance and coordination. How to
bring about the coordinated action and to institutionalize the
farming systems approach to research and extension needs be given
attention. The need for direction, guidance, and coordination is
greater in the initial stages of its implementation. Considerable
guidance would be needed in order to increase its coverage over a
wide area, especially during the period of expansion.
Another reason for a coordination system is that the logistic
ne2ds of an extend..,d '.ys'st'n would increase with expansion. Th
should he no m.ajur p.,jbl r. because of the already establish,
support systems of e x. ns ion activities through the regional a
ccu.ity Orgaaii action ';'dt th.3 -,pport of research through the ARC's.
The r.ced.Id co'rdi i n might be arrived at through differ
means or diffcent kinds of organization such as:
(.1) F.e,i-n-eial joint planning under executive direction.
Joint research/extension planning could be conducted
county or c-giLonal headquarters for extension agents or tI
ARC's (or AREC's). This planning could be doone from a farmii
systems perspective if personnel to conduct the work were t
received assignments through their Departments or through tl
Extension Service. Leadership responsibilities would t
assigned for joint planning and general supervision ar
The output from the joint planning would be a plan c
work which would include specific activity assignments. Suc
plans of work would have to be reconciled with financial ar
human resources. This system probably would function i
rewards for the work would be adequate. The system would hav
to be equitable in comparison with other research an
extension opportunities for promotion and tenure.
(b) .\n idmi inistrative ho.ne coilJd b"? established th'r,,'i:h
a high l.,.vel unit (such as the C.ent:r fir Rural Develo e-'t)..
The pl.inning still should be done on a regional basis -.";h t-h
participation of commodity and discipline research pers~o-.inel
along with extension personnel. Such a stricture would '"V'e
administrative functions, be a center for reporting and gn.ral
guidance and supervision. The work would be conducted by
personnel from the Departments and from Extension.
(e) A third system would be to pl.ce the responsibility
for the systems approach within either research or
extension--probably extension since it is extension which has
the framework for a disperse operation already in place.
(d) A fourth system might be to appoint a joint
"research/extension coordinator for on-farm technology" (or
some other more imaginative name or title) to work under both
the director of Research and Extension, who would do the FSR/E
coordination. Since the guidance and coordination is greater
during the initial phases of establishing the system this
position might eventually be eliminated. This would have the
advantage of requiring no new mechanisms, as compared with a
high level administrative unit. The objective of Lhis
approach wodld be avoidance of establishment of a program but
still achieve the institutionalization a systems mode of
The farming sy'.tens approach is nore a rianner of di r-i- ing r.'-;= r
toward specific biological objectives than a specific prolgr lm. It is qit
different from a strictly component approach for two reasons: (a) i: f,'c~-s
component research toward specific needs and (b) it returns the reslilts
component research to the holistic system for integration and evl -J or
production systems rather than relying upon the farmer or the e:;:tension ,'ei
4. Expansion of geographic coverage
Increased coverage is necessary if the systems ;'proich is
become institutionalized in the IFAS system.
Experience in other countries has indicated that the c;
logical means of increasing coverage is (a) to increase or e -2
the area around the initial implementation and (b) to u'se r'-;
members that have gained experience in one area to form the nuclei
for a team to work in a new area. In both cases the exparnsio. :
based upon the experience of personnel gained in one area t
The process of gaining the information and skill required 1
time consuming and costly in the initial stages. However once basi
information and skill are gained a team can continue to updat
technologies with less effort, thus it should be possible to reduce
team size (or expand the area), without completely abandoning a
Auxiliary personnel for support of f ild >.ork is thus
esp-ci.-illy important during the initial stages of ':orkz in a given
area. In this ruga.rd the pr.s-nt ;North Florida t-:-.. pr.bably would
have been more efficient with :':,re support perso-::el, especially in
the support of field t:ork. Cond'icting t'i. ;.'!d *:ork can be
excellent training e::pei.ience for the expansion rf CLuerage to new
areas. Much of the field o ork can also be done by
para-professionals, thus increasing total o,'ount of work output by
top level scientists.
IFAS, in addition to c-npi:s lcat.d p'- sonnl, a-nd in addition
to line extension agents, hIs several regionally located department
members, many of whom might possible be more directly integrated
into the systems approach.
Dr. Roberta van Haeften
Dr. Robert K. Waugh
Dr. J.K. McDermott
Dr. D.D. Harpstead