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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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National Program 207: Integrated Farming Systems
Action Plan (2002-2007)
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1 - Part I: Introduction
2 - Part II: Attributes of Integrated Agricultural Systems and Associated Projects
3 - Part III: Strategies for Developing IAS Projects
4 - Part IV: Examples of Integrated Agricultural Systems Research in ARS
Part III: Strategies for Developing IAS Projects

This section provides guidance for developing research programs under the IAS National Program. Realistically, a small number of research projects will fit completely the proposed IAS model. However, scientists should keep in mind the IAS attributes and strategies and consider how their research can be linked to other disciplinary and geographical areas. The following steps should be considered in developing a systems research program:

  1. Identify and bring together all stakeholders who are interested in a particular problem or research area. These parties may include grower organizations and scientists; representatives of agribusiness, extension, and action agencies; as well as producers and consumers.
  2. Clarify the request and determine if this is an ARS issue.
    1. Determine whether the problem has a potential technical solution, is appropriate for an ARS research project (vs. university, other federal or state agency, or the private sector), or if the solution is primarily socio-economic or political.
    2. Determine whether the problem is regional or national in scope.
    3. Determine whether or not this is an IAS problem.
  3. If this is an IAS problem, then
    1. Determine whether or not this is a duplication of previous research. If so, a solution may be formalized using current knowledge.
    2. Otherwise, determine the appropriate parties to be involved in the preliminary evaluation. This may require actively seeking partnerships with NGOs, universities, producers, agribusiness, and others outside of ARS and typical scientific communities.
    3. Identify secondary (sub) systems and pertinent congressional mandates.
    4. Plan and conduct a detailed information-gathering effort. This includes a search for background information in databases and literature. Information-gathering should include human experience as well as papers and electronically based sources. Questions should include but not be limited to
      1. What is the impact of the problem on society?
      2. What are the researchable goals?
      3. Where are the knowledge gaps?
      4. Under what kinds of conditions does the customer operate?
    5. Analyze and synthesize the data collected and feed it into the databases. 
      1. Using the collected data, jointly develop a common understanding of the entire system among the potential participants.
      2. Agree that resources should be committed to proceed with this area of research.
      3. Form a preliminary planning team to define researchable issues and user requirements and products and to identify appropriate team members.
      4. Determine the boundaries of the system and the natural ecological and biological resources available.
      5. Determine methods to quantify and predict the impact of critical interactions on potential solutions. Interactions among various systems and their environments need to be understood, quantified, and explained.
      6. Determine the appropriate scale for the research and impacts of the interactions on scaling up and down for the problem being addressed.
      7. Identify and solicit additional team members as needed.
  4. Considering the researchable issues identified by the preliminary planning team, above, plan and implement research to be done at the field, farm, watershed, or higher level.
    1. Determine optimum roles for all partners, cooperators, and stakeholders, ensuring maintenance of high-quality science as the foundation for solving systems problems.
    2. Identify relevant available research and design and initiate needed new studies.
    3. Develop timelines and milestones.
    4. Identify resources, both financial and in-kind, to be contributed by participants.
    5. Establish evaluation criteria and develop an evaluation plan.
    6. Develop a database management plan to document, maintain, update, archive, and release data; to provide guidance for its appropriate use; and to provide for quality assurance.
      1. Provide for team members' access to the database and its release to others. When appropriate, provide preliminary data and guidelines for interpretation to customers and stakeholders. When feasible, make the data available in multiple formats.
      2. Discuss in advance plans for data interpretation, use, authorship, publication, and other research credit.
  5. Incorporate new research results, tools, and technologies into the system as they are developed to test for more complex interactions and feedback mechanisms. For example, will a new tillage system increase or decrease surface or groundwater contamination? Knowledge of secondary effects can guide modification of the tillage system or choice of inputs. This process will enable researchers and partners to anticipate the effects of changes on the system and minimize unanticipated secondary effects.

The following diagram (Figure 2) illustrates the sequence of steps discussed above in the development of an ARS systems research project.


Figure 2. Typical pathways for development of an IAS National Program project

At each step there will be opportunities for feedback and reassessment using the most recently available information. Iteration and modification are an expected process throughout the entire project. Utilizing these steps to implement IAS research projects has been successfully demonstrated.

IAS projects rely heavily on teams. However, all team members need not be identified initially. Specific needed expertise will become known once the problem is clearly identified. An initial team should include customers, cooperators, action agency personnel, scientists, and others who will focus on gathering information and identifying the problem. The team ultimately should include persons with skills in the appropriate technical areas, social sciences, economics, information/library for long-term archiving, and other areas as appropriate.

Typical pathways associated with incorporating IAS attributes and implementing IAS strategies in project development are illustrated in Figure 2. The diagram is based on the concept of needs being identified to ARS by customers. The process begins with initial stakeholder/ARS activities to clarify issues and flows through scenarios determined by whether or not the problem is a systems issue, its relevancy to ARS, and possible duplication of previous research.

Some other things to keep in mind as we develop IAS projects:

  • Initiators of the research may be motivated by social or ecological considerations.
  • Expected research outcomes should be clearly defined.
  • The technical team should not be limited to ARS personnel.
  • Problem selection may be influenced by how much can be accomplished and how long it will take.
  • For every potential IAS project, we must answer research priority questions.
  • Planning for IAS projects needs to include an approach for seeking cooperators and a process to provide them with appropriate background and context at whatever point they enter the project. Although several specific potential cooperators within and outside the federal government have been identified within this plan, this list is not meant to be exclusive. Any interested entity that cares to be involved in and to contribute to these research goals may contact ARS researchers.

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Last Modified: 12/15/2008
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