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Designing Alternative Solutions: Case Study of the North Florida FSR/E Project. An Audio-Visual Training Module Peter E. Hildebrand TMS 403 July, 1983. This is a presentation of the University of Florida Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSRE) Program
Designing Alternative Solutions:Case Study of theNorth Florida FSR/E Project An Audio-Visual Training Module Peter E. Hildebrand TMS 403 July, 1983
This is a presentation of the University of Florida Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSRE) Program and the USAID/UF Farming Systems Support Project that was active in the first part of the 1980s
The North Florida sub project was financed jointly by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) of the University of Florida and the Office of International Cooperation and Development of the United States Department of Agriculture
FSR/E is a procedure for technology generation and dissemination that is based on an understanding of farmers’ problems, resources and desires.
The FSR/E approach conducts the greater portion of research on farms with farmer and extension participation. On-farm research plots have a dual function, creating a situation in which research is combined with initial extension efforts.
Let’s take a look at how FSR/E works. Beginning in the lower left hand corner, the approach starts by identifying problems in specific systems. This is accomplished through a rapid reconnaissance survey (Sondeo), directed surveys or exploratory agronomic or animal research.
Alternative solutions are generated for specific problems in those specific systems. This is directed or applied problem-solving research.
As soon as possible, new technologies are evaluated under real farm conditions. On experiment stations and early on-farm trials the researchers usually manage the experiments.
When the technicians are satisfied that one, or a few technologies have high potential for solving problems in an area, farmers, themselves are given the opportunity to evaluate the acceptability of these technologies in what is called farmer-managed trials.
Finally, a technology that is found to solve specificproblems in specific systems and has a high acceptability by the farmers, can be promoted within that system with a high level of confidence that it will be adopted.
Initial efforts in 1981 to locate areas of small farmers in north Florida concentrated on a six-county area. Interviews were conducted with individual county extension directors, farmers and other persons knowledgeable about local agricultural conditions.
Suwannee and Columbia Counties were determined to have an adequate concentration of small farmers and were selected as the primary area for further study.
Sondeo comes from the Spanish word – to sound out. The Sondeo is a rapid survey conducted by a multidisciplinary team using a conversational, informal interview technique.
This procedure entails driving many back roads with maps and plat books.
And knocking on doors and meeting dogs and people.
The lack of clipboards, notes and questionnaires Is conducive to increased cooperation, farmer input,
This is of great importance to the FSR/E approach as it relies on the farmer’s perceptions of his or her system, problems, constraints and resources.
The North Florida Sondeo consisted of 66 interviews with small-scale, family farmers in the two county area. Additional data were collected in conversations with area feed store operators, Extension agents, local government officials and others.
Several different kinds of small farm systems were encountered in the area. The first and most general differentiation was based on socio-economic rather than production criteria. Recently established farmers were defined as those who had been on the land for less than one generation.
Old line farmers were defined as those who had been on the land two or more generations. Yes, this one used to squeeze sugar cane to make molasses or sugar.
Old line farmers predominated in the sample and formed the basis for the major thrust of the project. Comparison of selected characteristics revealed some major differences.
One of the most important differences was access to and participation in long-established networks for sharing information, labor, equipment, influence and capital.
Old line farms frequently inherited or purchased from family, while recently established farms purchased on the open market at current interest rates and with rigid mortgage conditions.
Old line farmers generally used older, fully depreciated equipment, consistent with low cash investment, low cash flow, and low indebtedness.
Recently established farmers, on the other hand, must usually purchase new equipment, leading to much higher capital outlay, cash flow and indebtedness. Risk aversion strategies dominated old line production enterprises.
While the production systems of many black and white farmers relied on tobacco as the means for providing stable, annual cash income, major differences in production practices and access to resources were evident between them.
The smaller black farmers had less access to capital but greater access to labor. Tobacco production on black farms was generally on non-irrigated, small, individual allotments and it was worked with older equipment.
Old style stick barns, such as this one, for curing tobacco, were still found in use on many black tobacco farms.
Tobacco production on white farms used high technology equipment, with attendant high capital investment on larger, consolidated allotments. These larger acreages were frequently irrigated. A minimum of 10 acres was needed to justify irrigation costs.
Bulk barns for curing were used by most white tobacco farmers. The high initial cost and rising fuel costs kept this equipment predominantly in white production systems.
Both black, and white old line farmers were important in the sample, but white, old line farmers constituted nearly 50 percent of the total.
Three types of enterprise mixes were encountered In the farming systems in the area. Crop-centered farming systems included a variety of crop mixes; however they all centered around an important cash crop.
Peanut-centered systems such as this one had been prevalent in the southern portion of the area, but were declining in importance.
Growing corn for grain that can be fed, stored or sold was a traditional crop enterprise on most farms in the area. Increasing input prices and continuing low yields were discouraging many farmers from producing this grain.
Tobacco was another historically important enterprise in crop-centered systems that was declining in importance, particularly for small farmers.
Soybean production was growing in importance in the area in spite of the higher management and input levels recommended for the crop.
A second kind of system was the mixed crop-livestock system. These systems, producing both crops and animals in varying combinations were the most frequent in the sample. The traditional corn-velvet bean intercrop provides an efficient use of resources by feeding both cattle and hogs.
The traditional corn-peanut intercrop had the advantage of providing bird hunting in the fall.
This farmer adopted technology appropriate to his particular circumstances. His swine-corn operation showed a blend of old and new technologies. Corn was grown and milled on the farm. The addition of concrete in the pens, sprinklers for summer cooling, and an antibiotic injector in the watering system allowed the advantages of modern technologies without the high capital investment of recommended confinement systems.
The third general category, livestock-centered systems, included a low management, low input cattle system that utilized pastures, crop residues and purchased or farm grown feed.
Swine production enterprises varied from high capital, high input confinement facilities to traditional woods pig practices.
The mixed crop-livestock system was the most important system in the area.
Even though in the FSRE project in the North Florida area we were considering small farms, land, itself, was not found to be one of the primary constraints to the productivity of any of the systems. Some farmers sold small acreages to gain needed capital.
However, all systems shared some basic constraints. Low soil fertility was general throughout the area.
Erratic rainfall, compounded by soil compaction on many farms created moisture stress through much of the growing period.
Lack of adequate market opportunities discouraged the production of many specialized crops such as sweet potatoes.
Credit was generally available in the area; however for many old-line farmers, capital was an effective constraint. On both black and white old-line farms, many farmers preferred not to become indebted, and land title problems on some black farms precluded the possibilities of credit.
In both crop centered and mixed farming systems in the area, low corn yields, decreasing prices and increasing input costs had effectively constrained these systems.