Group Title: Working paper Farming Systems Research Group, Michigan State University no. 2
Title: Farming systems position paper
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 Material Information
Title: Farming systems position paper
Series Title: Working paper Farming Systems Research Group, Michigan State University no. 2
Physical Description: 12 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Pearson, A. M.
Michigan State University -- Farming Systems Research Group
Donor: unknown ( endowment ) ( endowment )
Publisher: Michigan State University, Farming Systems Research Group
Place of Publication: East Lansing
Publication Date: 1981
Copyright Date: 1981
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by A.M. Pearson.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00095065
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 317069928

Full Text

Farming Systems

Research Group


The Farming Systems Research Group at Michigan State University is drawn from
the departments of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Engineering, Animal
Science, Crop and Soil Science, Food Science and Human Nutrition, Sociology,
Veterinary Medicine, and supported by the International Agriculture Institute of
M.S.U. and the U.S. Agency for International Development through a matching
strengthening grant under the Title XII program.

Farming Systems Research Group
Michigan State University

The Farming Systems Research Group at Michigan State University, supported
by Title XII Strengthening Grant Funds from the U.S. Agency for International
Development, and administered by the Institute of International Agriculture,
has included Dr. Jay Artis, Department of Sociology; Dr. Robert J. Deans,
Department of Animal Science; Dr. Merle Esmay (and Dr. Robert Wilkinson),
Department of Agricultural Engineering; Dr. Eric Crawford, Department of
Agricultural Economics; Dr. Russell Freed, Department of Crop and Soil
Sciences (also representing Horticulture); Dr. Al Pearson, Department of
Food Science and Human Nutrition; Dr. Tjaart Schillhorn van Veen, Department
of Veterinary Medicine; with Dr. George Axinn, International Studies and
Programs and Agricultural Economics, Chair, and Ms. Beverly Fleisher,
graduate research assistant.


by A. M. Pearson

Working Paper No. 2

June, 1981



Paper No.















Farming Systems Research and Agricul-
tural Economics

Farming Systems Position Paper

Livestock Systems and Animal Health

Issues in Farming Systems Research --
an Agronomist's Perspective

Farming Systems Research As It Relates
To The Animal Sciences

Farming Systems Research Position Paper

The Farming Systems Research Approach in
the Agricultural Engineering Field

Issues in Farming Systems Research --
a Multidisciplinary Behavioral Science

Farming Systems Research and
Agricultural Engineering

An M.S.U. Approach to Farming Systems

The M.S.U. Farming Systems Research
Group Perspective

A Working Bibliography on Farming
Systems Research August, 1981

Social Impact, Economic Change, and
Development -- with illustrations
from Nepal


Eric Crawford

Al Pearson

Tjaart Schillhorn van Veen

Russell Freed

Robert J. Deans

Jay Artis

Merle L. Esmay

George H. Axinn

Robert H. Wilkinson

Beverly Fleisher and
George H. Axinn

George H. Axinn and
Nancy W. Axinn

Farming Systems Position Paper

A.M. Pearson

Department of Food Science and

Human Nutrition

Definition of Farming System

A farming system is defined as a human group and the resources

and environment that it manages in producing plant and/or animal

products to meet its direct or perceived needs for sustenance and

quality of life. Although quality of life has different meanings to

different people, in this discussion it is broadly usea to include

any definition of any individual within the human group that compose

any farming system. Thus, the farming system involves the

interaction of several independent components, such as people, land,

crops, animals and weather.

Considered in its broadest sense, each independent farming

system is one component of a larger system, with each unit being

part of the whole but with no two units being the same. Similarly,

each of the larger components, which may be defined as a community,

are different in the same way that the farming systems within them


Farming Systems Research may be defined as a systematic analysis

of farming systems, including their similarities and dissimilar-


cities. The purpose of farming systems research is to study farms

with similar and/or different environments, crops and/or animals and

production practices to see how they meet demands for perceived

human needs and quality of life, i.e., food, clothing, shelter,

health and well being, other necessities and luxuries. Some of the

basic needs can be measured, whereas, others are difficult to


Analysis of farming systems in its simplest sense is done by the

farm family or interacting groups, who make decisions on what to do

in terms of crops, livestock, self-employment and off-farm

employment to meet their demands for goods and services. Although

this type of analysis of farming systems is a continuous and

on-going process it may lack the systematic approach possible by an

outsider, but has the advantage of understanding the family group

and their capabilities and the experience of living within the

system. Thus, the interacting group is constantly making decisions

within their environment that affect their production of goods

needed for sustenance of life and meeting of their perceived needs.

Any analysis of Farming Systems Research must necessarily

involve the human resources within the system, who must provide most

of the information on the system and the goods and services that it

generates and perceives that are needed. The professional, however,

can focus attention upon specific issues and ascertain their success

or failure to help meet the needs and/or demands by the family and

the community. The professional analysis can draw on a broad

background of information and agricultural practices to suggest for

improving production, such as new crops, new enterprises and

management techniques that have been successful under other similar

conditions. He also has the ability to call upon resources that are

unknown or unavailable to the farm families. Such suggestions for

improvement of farming systems must first, however, be proceeded by

careful analysis of the present system and why it exists in the

present state. Thus, delivery of so-called appropriate technologies

is dependent upon a complete understanding of farmers and their

environment, including crops, animals and every facet of life.

Opportunities for success of any farming systems analysis, as

has been pointed out earlier herein, must analyze the system before

making recommendations for improvement in technology. This

indicates that Farming Systems Research must consider different

elements within the system, including not only crops and/or

livestock, soil, climate and production practices, but also the

human element and their needs and their role, not only in the family

but within a broader community system. Thus, farming systems

research is a systems analysis of farming systems as outlined by

Manetsch (1977). It is within this framework that the MSU Farming

Systems Research Group can make a contribution, because the group

has broad representation across and within disciplines so that each

element within the farming system and its related community can be


carefully examined and evaluated before intervention processes are

recommended. Its goal then is to analyze the systems and make an

analysis of how the system can be improved after considering the

impact of any possible recommendations for intervention.

Problem Solving in Nutrition and Food Technology by Farming System


First, it is necessary to point out that nutrition ano food

technology are distinctly separate areas, yet their

interrelationship is so closely allied that they must be considered

jointly. Nutrition involves the intake of food by man and how the

body converts the foods into nutrients that are essential for life

(Food and Nutrition Board, 1980). On the other hand, food

technology is the science of food processing with emphasis upon the

principles involved in preservation of foods, which includes the

conservation of the different classes of nutrients, i.e., lipids

(fat), carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, minerals and water. Thus,

nutrition is concerned with the adequacy of the diet and food

consumption patterns of different segments of the population,

whereas, food processing is closely related to both home

preservation and to industrial development of products for human


Industrial development of any country or portion thereof

requires both a food processing and a marketing system, which

likewise are also closely related. Although the degree of

sophistication of food processing and marketing may vary from a

minimum of application during transporting foods to consuming areas

to considerable processing and development for export markets, it

aids developing country farming systems in two main ways; (1) by

providing markets for specific crops thereby benefiting the farmer

directly; and (2) by providing employment in food processing and

marketing. Rural families often find employment opportunities in

the food processing industry since food processing plants must be

located relatively near to their sources of supply. Two other

advantages that may or may not come to fruition are decreasing of

food wastes through preservation, and generation of outside

operating capital through development of markets. Although all of

these factors may come into play, it is important that farming

systems research analyze the advantages and short-comings of such

changes, not only in light of goods and services but also in terms

of their effects upon family well being and health.

Food is a perishable commodity, which means that some form of

conservation must be practiced. In its simplest form this may be

the drying and storage of crop materials, such as the cereal grains,

or keeping live animals and slaughtering them when needed for food.

However, industrial development requires more sophisticated food

preservation systems in order to allow a more organized food

distribution system. A consequence of the development of food

processing has been larger and more specialized farms to provide

adequate amounts of product to keep food processing plants operating

at or near capacity. However, development of such specialized

farming systems is not without increased risk due to low prices,

crop failure or pest and disease problems that are inherent to large

acreages of specialized production.

As already pointed out earlier, food processing and human

nutrition need to be closely associated. History is replete with

instances where nutritionists have developed food products or

provided them to populations, yet the product has been a failure

because the people would not eat the product due to its lack of

acceptability. The distribution of powdered milk, which is a

nutritous food from the standpoint of its food value, is an example

where well-meaning administrators and even nutritionists have

delivered a product to hungry peoples and yet it was not acceptable

for a variety of reasons. Thus, food technologists, human

nutritionists and food marketing experts must work closely with

behavioral scientists in development of new products. This again

points to the advantages of the MSU Farming Systems approach in

analyzing and development of intervention programs.

The next question to be asked: "What needs to be done in

farming systems research in the field of human nutrition and food

technology?" A series of counter questions can be readily

developed, such as: (1) What is the nutritional status of the

family groups under different farming systems? Is food intake

adequate and does it meet nutritional needs? If not, what are the

deficiencies? Does nutritional adequacy vary among members of the

family group, i.e., between men and women, youth, small children and

babies? What are the effects upon health, longevity and


(2) Nutritional intake of the population in large areas of the

world is much below the recommended dietary allowances in U.S.A.

(Food and Nutrition Board, 1980). Although many surveys on

nutritional intake have been made in developing countries (Ahmad,

1977; University of California Food Task Force, 1974; Currey, 1978),

there is little information on the influence of farming systems on

the nutritional adequacy of the diet. Thus, the following questions

are pertinent to farming systems research: What are the food habits

of the family and its members? Why do they eat and not eat certain

foods? What are the effects of education upon dietary habits and

can they be altered by providing information? What are the most

effective means of nutritional intervention? How can one improve

health and well being of farm families and communities? Are

requirements for different people different?

(3) Although there is some information on food losses (Wright

and Billeter, 1975; USDA, 1965; Hunter, 1977; Sparks, 1965; Field,

1965), the information on the effects of farming systems is at best

fragmentary. Thus, the following questions can be asked: What are

food losses on the farm, in the marketing system and during the


processing? What are the food losses that occur during each step

and how can they be reduced or eliminated? What effects do food

losses have on the farm families and do they differ between

different farming systems? Do self-sufficient farm families make

better use of their production or do intermediate and large

commercial farmers manage their resources more efficiently?

(4) Is it possible to develop.a food processing industry for a

particular farming systems group? If so what crops and or livestock

enterprises will make the best use of resources? Is there a market

for the products produced? How much technology and labor can be

marketed? If a product is marketed, what effects will it have upon

the health and well being of the farm family group? What effect

will the industrial development have upon the natural resources?

What will it do to the community and to the developing country?

Will the economic and social benefits be worthwhile or detrimental?

What Has Been Done in Farming Systems Research in Food Technology

and Nutrition?

Little has been done to relate human nutrition and food

processing to farming systems research, with the best work having

been done in marketing. The rural poor have been stuGied as groups

from the standpoint of their nutritional well-being, but relating

the data to individual farming systems among the rural population

still must be examined.

Some means of expressing the data both in human nutrition and in


food processing need to be developed. For example, how does one

measure and express the adequacy of the diet, i.e., total caloric

intake, protein intake or the deficiencies in individual vitamins

and minerals? Axinn and Axinn (1980) have addressed this question

and suggested the use of energy intake. However, it is probable

that there is no one method because one can have serious health

problems or even die from a single vitamin or mineral deficiency as

readily as one can from energy or protein deficiency. Thus,

nutritional and food consumption data need to consider all nutrients

and their effects upon health and productivity. Since single

nutrient deficiencies are often difficult to assess or recognize,

complete consumption data on foods are most often necessary.

Basic Principles, Concepts and Generalizations About Farming Systems

Research in Human Nutrition and Food Technology

The farming systems approach seems to offer advantages in

studying the adequacy of food intake and nutritional well-being in

rather distinct segments of the population. Food processing, both

at home in small units and as an industrial development, would

appear to offer some intervention programs that can be used to

benefit the population. These areas should be researchable within

different farming systems and offer interesting approaches to

determining their effect within the framework of well designed



Answering the questions listed earlier can provide information

on the effects of farming system upon the people within the system,

their diet and the influence of intervention programs. Some of

these can be easily measured, whereas, others may have no simplistic

answers. No doubt, only a few of the questions that need answering

have been listed so that others will need to be asked and addressed

by Farming Systems Research.

What Help Is Needed From Other Disciplines to Analyze and Formulate


Nutrition and Food Science are two different, yet closely

related disciplines that are dependent upon several other areas for

support. For example, food processing needs to coordinate efforts

so that wise decisions on possible industrial operations are not

undertaken without studies of production capabilities of crops

and/or livestock products. There must also be studies of potential

markets and the methods of marketing, which in turn must consider

their sociological impact. Mechanization in production, processing

and marketing also must be carefully considered. Furthermore, human

behaviorists and sociologists need to be consulted during planning

and development of marketing systems.

Nutriton is closely allied with the other health professions,

including medicine and the behavioral sciences. The success of

nutritionists in solving nutritional problems is also dependent upon

having the proper foods available to supply the needed nutrients,


which requires production of nutritious animal and plant products,

their preservation, distribution and marketing. Thus, each area of

specialization must be considered to be effective in developing

intervention programs and must rely on a whole gamut of specialists

from other disciplines.


Ahmad, A. 1977. Nutrition survey of rural Bangladesh 1975-76.

Inst. Nutr. & Food Sci., University of Dacca, Dacca, Bangladesh.

Axinn, N.W. and Axinn, G.H. 1980. The recycling ratio: An energy

approach to rural planning. Paper presented at World Congress

for Rural Sociology, Mexico City, August 7-10, 1980.

Currey, B. 1978. The famine syndrome: Its definition for relief

and rehabilitation in Bangladesh. Ecology Food Nutr. 7:87.

Field, R.A. 1976. Increased animal protein production with

mechanical deboners. World Rev. Anim. Prod. 12:61.

Food and Nutrition Board. 1980. Recommended Dietary Allowances.

National Research Council National Academy of Sciences. 9th

ed., Washington, D.C.

Hunter, J.H. 1977. Prediction of weight losses in stored potatoes

by computer simulation. ASAE paper No. 77-4060. St. Joseph, MI.

Mantesch, T.J. 1977. On the role of systems analysis in aiding

countries facing acute food shortages. IEEE Transactions on

Systems, Man and Cybernetics. Vol. SMC-7:264.


Sparks, W.C. 1965. Effect of storage temperature on storage losses

of Russet Burbank potatoes. Am. Pot. J. 42:241.

University of California Food Task Force. 1974. A hungry world: A

challenge to agriculture. Div. Agric. Sciences, Univ.

California, Berkeley, California.

USDA. 1965. Losses in agriculture. USDA ARS Agr. Handbook No. 291.

Wright, W.R. and Billeter, B.A. 1975. Marketing losses of selected

fruits and vegetables at wholesale, retail and consumer levels

in Chicago area. USDA/ARS MRR-1017.

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