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Farming Systems Project
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The Farming Systems Project is currently undergoing a review at the request of the Beltsville Area office. If you would like to view the materials which have been prepared for this review please use the two links provided below. 

Beltsville Farming Systems Project (FSP) Overview

This document contains the Project Summary, Objectives, Funding, Personnel, Project History, Annual Data Collection Activities, Outreach and Impact, Challenges, and Accomplishments Summary.

FSP Research Summaries

This is a series of 2-page summaries of different research being accomplished at the FSP site.


Farming Systems Project Logo
The FSP. The USDA-ARS Farming Systems Project (FSP) at BARC is a long-term comparison of seven cropping systems established in 1993 to:
  1. Study the basic biology and ecology of farming systems using a multidisciplinary, systems approach
  2. Address farmer-defined management and production barriers to the development and adoption of sustainable cropping systems in the mid-Atlantic

The farming systems, which were designed by a team of farmers, extension agents and scientists, represent a continuum of production strategies from conventional to organic methods. They were designed to take advantage of regional resources and markets, such as rural and municipal organic wastes, and local demand for organic food and feed grains. The seven cropping systems were laid out in replicated research plots in 1996 after a three-year site variability assessment.

Agricultural Sustainability. Farming systems are complex. Soils, crops, livestock, pests, weather, farm managers, the off-farm environment, economics, social issues and other factors interact in complicated ways to influence agricultural sustainability. Widespread adoption of sustainable farming systems will therefore require that we better understand and address the ecology of farming systems, the socioeconomic constraints to farming systems management, and how to overcome barriers to the development and adoption of sustainable farming systems.

Image of flowering crimson cloverObjectives.
  1. To assess short- and long-term interactions among cropping systems, soil quality, pest population dynamics, and economics
  2. To develop and refine sustainable agriculture practices and technologies using knowledge gained under objective 1, in conjunction with farmer input.
We are especially interested in investigating the role of soil quality on the two most important, farmer-defined management and production barriers in the mid-Atlantic region:
  1. Managing weeds adequately with reduced or no herbicide use, and
  2. Meeting crop nutrient needs using primarily animal and plant manures.

Organic Systems

The FSP also has a special emphasis on organic farming systems. Our current understanding of farming systems relies heavily on reductionistic research conducted within a conventional farming context. While we have made great progress using this approach, it is inherently biased toward an industrial approach to farming. On the other hand, there is increasing evidence that organic farms may be fundamentally different than conventional farms. For example, soil microbial communities and activities, nematode communities, and crop attractiveness to insects have been shown to differ between organic and conventional farms. Additionally, there are numerous but umsubstantiated accounts of differences in weed populations and dynamics between organic and conventional farms. A basic understanding of the ecological interactions likely responsible for such differences will allow us to better address the needs of organic farmers.

Interdisciplinary research, therefore, is crucial to the success of the FSP. A list of current collaborators follows. We welcome inquiries from other researchers, farmers or others interested in collaborating on DFSP research.

Dr. Michel Cavigelli
phone: 301-504-8327

Mr. Chris Rasmann

Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory
phone: 301-504-7199


Nutrient Management and Soil Quality:
Michel Cavigelli and Chris Rasmann, Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory
Tran Dao, Animal Manure and Byproducts Lab

Soil Microbial Biodiversity
Jeff Buyer, Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory

Weed Ecology
John Teasdale, Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory

Farming Systems Project Design