Group Title: Working paper Farming Systems Research Group, Michigan State University no. 4
Title: Issues in farming systems research
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095070/00001
 Material Information
Title: Issues in farming systems research an agronomist's perspective
Series Title: Working paper Farming Systems Research Group, Michigan State University no. 4
Physical Description: 5, 2 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Freed, Russell D.
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 Russell D. Freed.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095070
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 - 317069930

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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.

Issues in Farming Systems Research--
an agronomist's perspective

by Russell D. Freed

Working Paper No. 4

June, 1981


Farming Systems Research Group WORKING PAPERS

The papers in this series were prepared during the 1980 1981
academic year by members of the Michigan State University Farming Systems
Research Group. Papers one through nine were prepared by individual
members of the group, after much discussion, and were reviewed by members
of the group prior to final revision by the authors. However, each of
the papers represents the author's personal perspectives on Farming
Systems Research. Each paper is different from the others. All papers
are an attempt to answer the following questions:

From the perspective of my discipline what is Farming Systems

What research has been done in my discipline which relates directly
to Farming Systems Research?

What opportunities are there for further research from the perspective
of my discipline?

What assistance would scholars from my discipline need from other
disciplines in order to carry out Farming Systems Research?

Each individual responded to these questions in his own way. Paper
number ten is an attempt to summarize the perspectives of the various
disciplines represented, identifying commonalities and differences. Paper
eleven sets forth the recommendations of the group for further work in
this field at Michigan State University.

George H. Axinn, Chair
Farming Systems Research Group
and Professor, Agricultural Economics
and Assistant Dean, International Studies
and Programs
June, 1981


1. What is Farming Systems Research?

Farming systems research is the application of a systematic analysis

to agricultural research development, implementation and evaluation.

Farming systems research takes a holistic overview of the different

component systems which interact with the farm. These component systems

include social, technological and political aspects. Farming systems

research then is the integration of the research between these three large

systems as well as the integration of the research within each large


Farming systems research is an administrative tool which is used to

direct and evaluate research programs. Farming systems research will

serve as the communication link between the systems which operate on the

farm. Many of the component systems will do their work independent of the

other systems. However, FSR will provide the opportunity for the different

systems to exchange information and ideas. This information will then be

used to formulate and implement improved research projects.

2. How doesFarming Systems Research relate to problem solving in agronomy?

Agricultural development has made some dramatic changes in the last

century. It has shifted from the "frontier model", through several other

patterns to the "induced innovative model" (Ruttan, 1980). The agronomists

have been responsible for much of this change with their introduction of

science-based agriculture. Science-based agriculture has brought about

some sudden and dramatic changes to the farm scene.

Farming systems research will be used by the agronomists to do three

major operations: (1) identification and development of research projects,

(2) implementation of research programs, and (3) evaluation of the new




The identification of research priorities is the first thing the

agronomist must do in developing a research program. FSR plays a very

important role in this process. When the needs of the farmer and society

are viewed in their entirety (through FSR), better research programs are

formulated. The agronomist will first look at the farmer's present produc-

tion practices. He will try to understand why the farmer does what he

does (Harwood, 1979). The agronomist and the extension worker need to

communicate concerning the farmer's condition/needs. The extension agent

has the responsibility of understanding the farmer. Some agronomists

prefer to have a social scientist involved in this process. The agronomist

will then see if there are technologies which can make the system more

productive and/or efficient. These new technologies may involve different

cultural practices, varieties, cropping patterns, water utilization,

fertilizer use, etc.

When considering the implementation of agronomic research the agrono-

mist will participate in building a model which will show how any new

technology will interact with other systems on the farm. Are the necessary

infra-structures present or if not, can they be built? FSR will allow

scientists from other systems to evaluate the potential impact upon their

own systems. For example, if it is decided by the political powers that

there is an urgent need for an increased grain production by the farmers,

the agronomist will develop several possible programs which could possibly

solve the problem. The more efficient use of fertilizers and/or new high-

yielding varieties are the most common solutions. The agronomist would

then get feedback from the other systems (animal, social, economic,

harvesting) about what kinds of impact this technology would have. If the

new technology is too disruptive to the system then other approaches

would have to be formulated.

Farming systems research needs to be conducted on the experiment

station as well as the farmer's fields. Much of the basic research is

done on the experiment station while the applied is done on the farmer's


Evaluating the consequences of the new technology is done by the

agronomist, farmer and other interested persons. The farmer is usually

the best judge for new technology, since he is the person who must want

and be able to use it (Zandstra, 1979). This phase of research should

be the extension phase. Enough evaluation tests have been done so that

these tests can also serve as demonstration plots.

When a farming systems research approach is used by the agronomist

to improve his research program, the assumption is that the quality of life

for the farmer and society will be improved.

3. What have agronomists done in Farming Systems Research?

Several international institutes have had Farming Systems programs

(IITA, ICRISAT, and CIAT) while others had cropping systems programs

(IRRI, AVRDC). Hildebrand (1976) uses the economist and agronomist

approach to farming systems research.

A very good example of FSR work would be the National Rice Research

team that was organized in Sri Lanka. There were several groups of

scientists which worked on their own systems but interacted with other

groups when beneficial. The first group was the resource capability

survey group which did agro-ecological mapping. They concentrated on

water availability, soils, and climate. This group partitioned the

country into different common zones, each zone having major common elements

necessary for crop production. This group then selected test sites where

agronomic and variety yield tests should be conducted to insure that the

major soil types were included in the variety evaluation tests.


The next group of scientists were the cropping systems specialists

who determined the most efficient cropping patterns for the various zones.

This group also did production research to determine the most viable

production procedures. The group included an economist, agronomist and

pest management person (Fernando, 1978).

The next group of scientists were the basic scientists who worked in

the research institutes and research stations. These scientists generated

technology which was used by the cropping systems specialists. The

cropping systems specialists interacted with the "basic" scientists to

relate specific needs and also familiarize themselves with any new technology.

The farmer was also a very important person on the team. The research

scientists had constant communication with the farmers. The researcher

also had trials which were managed by the farmer to see if the technology

was acceptable.

The extension worker also participated in the research program.

Extension-Research dialogues were held regularly. Joint field inspections

to check for problems were also made. The communication link helped to

formulate the research priorities as well as to keep the extension worker

informed about any new technologies which were being generated.

4. Generalizations about farming systems and agronomists.

"If present trends continue, the world in 2000 will be more crowded,

more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption

than the world we live in now. Serious stresses involving population,

resources, and environment are clearly visable ahead. Despite greater

material output, the world's people will be poorer im many ways than they

are today." This would be a concise summary of the Global 2000 Study.

Agronomists have been very active in producing new technologies

which have benefited society (Everson, 1974; Ruttan, 1977). Their

participation in international agricultural development has also been

significant (Brady, 1979; Herdt, 1979). Plant breeders have changed plant

architecture and raised yield levels dramatically (Coyne, 1980; Evans,

1980; Johnson, 1980). Despite the progress made by agronomists in the last

40 years, the major hurdle still remains, developing the.agriculture of

the developing countries.

Farming systems research may help solve some of the problems which

need to be corrected if agriculture is going to improve in the developing

world. FSR recognized that the problems are social, political and tech-

nological and all three areas must be addressed if progress is to be made.

5. What other disciplines are needed to carry out better research?

Plant breeding has always leaned heavily on other disciplines to

formulate breeding programs. The disciplines in the plant sciences

(entomology, pathology) have been the most important but many programs

include other disciplines (chemistry, nutrition, ag engineering, etc.).

The economists and sociologists/anthropologists have not been heavily

involved in program development but they do get involved in program

evaluation. The social scientists are needed to help understand the

farmer. How will he accept technological change?

The marketing of agricultural products is a major problem to increased

food production. Incentives are also needed to encourage the farmer to

produce more.

Farming systems research and interdisciplinary research are often

used together. The Nobel Laureate Theodore Schultz called interdiscipli-

nary research as "weak on theory and soft in the quality of research which

gets done." Interdisciplinary research may be difficult to manage but

interdisciplinary communication can function as the needed ingredient to

combine the knowledge of the different fields which are needed to solve

our agricultural problems.


1. Brady, N.C. 1979. The Role of Agronomists in International Agricultural

Development." Agronomists and Food: Contributions and Challenges.

Amer. Soc. of Agronomy.

2. CIAT, Annual Report. 1975. Call, Columbia.

3. Coyne, Dermot P. 1980. "Modification of Plant Architecture and Crop

Yield by Breeding." Hort. Science Vol. 15(3).

4. Evans, L.T. 1980. "The Natural History of Crop Yield." American Scien-

tist Vol. 68(4) pp. 388-397.

5. Everson, R.E. 1974. "The Green Revolution in Recent Development Experience."

Am. J. Agric. Econ. 56(2):387-394.

6. Fernando, G.W.E. 1978. Sri Lanka Cropping Systems Program Update 1978.


7. Herdt, Robert W. and Randolph Barker. 1979. "Sources of Growth in Asian

Food Production and an Approach to Identification of Constraining

Factors." Interfaces Between Agriculture, Nutrition and Food

Science, pp. 21-45, IRRI.

8. Hildebrand, P.E. 1976. "Multiple Cropping Systems are Dollars and 'Sense'

Agronomy," in Multiple Cropping. American Society of Agronomy Special

Publication Number 27. Madison, Wisconsin: American Society of


9. Harwood, Richard R. 1979. Small Farm Development: Understanding and

Improving Farming Systems in the Humid Tropics. Boulder, Colorado:

Westview Press.

10. ICRISAT, Annual Report. 1973-74. Hyderabad, India.

11. IITA, Annual Report. 1975. Ibadan, Nigeria.

12. IRRI, Annual Report. 1978. Los Banos, Philippines.

13. Johnson, Richard R. "How High Can Yields Go?" Crops & Soils Magazine.

Aug-Sept. 1980.

14. Ruttan, Vernon W. 1977. "The Green Revolution: Seven Generalizations."

International Development Review 19(4).

15. Ruttan, Vernon. 1980. "How the World Feeds Itself." Sept/Oct Society.

16. Schultz, Theodore W., The Economics of Research and Agricultural Produc-

tivity. Paper presented at the Seminar on Socio-Economic Aspects of

Agricultural Research in Developing Countries, May 7 to 11, 1978,

Santiago, Chile.

17. The Global 2000 Report to the President. A report prepared by the council

on environmental quality and the department of state. Gerald 0.

Barney, study director, Washington, DC, 1980.

18. Zandstra, H.G. Experiences of IRRI in "Farm Testing" of Rice Technology.

Paper presented at the symposium on "Agricultural Research and Educa-

tion Systems for Development," sponsored by ICAR-IFARD. Sept. 1979,

New Dehli, India.

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