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Agricultural survey


Farmers are the experts in all aspects of the local agricultural environment. Extension agents are often trained in a limited set of agricultural practices. Therefore, it is necessary for the agent to turn to farmers and other local residents with a vested interest in a community's involvement in agriculture to gain a broader perspective on the local environment and farming practices.

In particular, an extension worker needs to know which farmers practice the type of agriculture she herself is most familiar with. Beyond that, she can contact other ag workers in the area, buyers of farm produce, suppliers of commercial inputs, and local truckers, all of whom possess intimate knowledge of certain agricultural practices. Their combined assistance should help the agent develop a well rounded view of local conditions.

Part of the information they supply will further orient an extensionist geographically. She needs to know where farms, farmers, suppliers and marketers are located with reference to the road network and dominant topographical features. What she cannot find out from local sources or through observation may be available from various government map-making agencies. Relief maps, road maps and soil survey maps can all prove helpful in supplementing hand-drawn charts. The latter are often more useful, however, because of the local detail they contain Government sources can also be some use in orienting an agent to local climate and weather patterns. Weather stations offer specific data that may or may not be useful depending upon the closeness of the station to an extension site. Relief maps also give some indication of relative temperature. (In the tropics, for instance, average temperature will drop by 3-4°F, for every 1,000 ft. rise in altitude.)

The best source of local information is likely, once again, to be local farmers. The ILLUSTRATIONS and TOOLS sections on the next pages demonstrate how farmers can be historians of climate changes. In particular, discussions with local residents can give the extension agent some sense of the risks farmers face from storms and other weather harzards. One caution in relying on local sources for information on climate patterns is that terms used to refer to weather conditions are relative and it may take sometime before an outsider has a true feel for the conditions being described.

Climate and geography provide a backdrop for a consideration of more specific farming practices. An extensionist needs to identify specific crops and livestock operations underway in an area and more specifically focus on the different means of production and processing. Note that the objective of this aspect of information gathering is to describe actual practices of most of the farmers in a given area, not the feasibility of improvements. Some attention should also be paid to general levels of production and access to inputs and services. The sum of these collective inquiries will be a picture of the overall agricultural development in the village or community an extensionist serves.

While drawing this picture, an extension agent needs to try and develop an understanding of how all of a farmer's various agricultural pursuits fit together in an annual cycle. It is necessary to try and piece together bits of information to form calendars for weather, crop growing seasons, cyclical animal husbandry practices, social activities and other seasonal demands on a farmer's time and resources.

It will be useful after gathering some of the information above and becoming a bit more knowledgeable about farming in general to focus on the individual farm unit. It is at this point that the extension agent begins to become more actively involved in the analysis of the specific needs and resources farmers have. She looks at farm size and the farm family's labor resources, land tenure arrangements and land use management, the value of farm implements and the general extent of a farmer's debts. The way all of these individual factors add up will help determine what services she might be able to provide to a particular family. In the case of the small-scale farmer the Peace Corps serves, this individual attention and the level of understanding it promotes are necessary requirements for genuine communication to take place.

(The sequence of the TOOLS and ILLUSTRATIONS sections which follow has been reversed due to the tact that most of the points being illustrated are found in the survey tools themselves.)


Useful contacts for conducting an ag survey:

• Knowledgeable local farmers, specifically those farmers specializing in the same area as the extension agent.

• Ag workers stationed in the area.

• Buyers of farm produce.

• Suppliers of commercial inputs.

• Local truckers or boat operators.

Sources of maps:

• Geographic or geodetic service of the government: In most Latin American countries there is the military geographic service. This is normally the only source of relief maps.

• National resource inventory maps: These are useful for looking at the regional dispersal of resources, but are not much help in making a local inventory of resources.

• Road maps: Those secured from public works agencies will show greater detail than maps issued by other sources.

• Special sources: National or regional soil survey maps, regional development authorities, etc.

• Homemade maps: Most maps secured from official sources are not normally on a large enough scale to provide space for annotating such important local details as location of farms, secondary irrigation works, and unimproved roads and trails. Sections of official maps will have to be blown up by hand to secure the required scale.

Features to note on maps: (see overlay maps)

1. Location of topographical features

• Altitude

• Streams

• Principal features (landmarks) recognized locally as reference points.

• Farm and non-farm lands

• Valleys

2. Communications (roads and trails)

• Distance between points

• Travel times and modes of travel between points

• Seasonal access

3. Demographic

• Location of communities

• Location of farmers

• Local names for communities

4. Infrastructure

• Irrigation systems, main and branch canals

• Drainage systems

• Stores where agricultural supplies are sold

• Schools

• Other

Climate and weather patterns checklist:

1. Precipitation

• Annual rainfall

• Month-by-month rainfall (snow) totals

• Geographic distribution of rainfall

2. Temperature

• Monthly averages

• Periods of extreme high or low temperatures

• Occurrence of first and last killing frost

3. Frequency and magnitude of wind and storms

• Wind velocity and seasonal variations

• Types (e.g. hail) and frequency of storms

4. Humidity

5. Sun exposure hours

Farming systems and practices inventory:

1. Identify the major crop operations within the area.

For each:

a. Indicate the growing season

• Normal growing season (dates)

• Normal variations in growing season (early-late)

• Make line bar graphs on a calendar to compare growing seasons for different crops. (See ILLUSTRATIONS)

b. Describe production practices

• Describe the principal tillage practices and their earliest and latest dates of application.

• For every practice indicate the following:

- What the practice is called locally.

- The specific input or inputs associated with the practice, and the amounts applied per local unit of land measurement.

- The mode of application.

- The time of application (see ILLUSTRATIONS)

c. Estimate yields and returns

• Reported yields per unit of land.

• Recent prices tat normal time of scale).

• Multiply recent prices by approximate average yield; get approximate gross returns.

• Substract approximate costs of production to get the estimate net returns.

2. Identify major livestock operations within the area.

For each:

a. Indicate the source of feed supply: native pasture, cultivated forages, crop residues, homegrown grains, purchased feed, etc.

• Indicate when pasture is available seasonally and how forage quality varies throughout the pasture season.

• For other homegrown forages indicate the source and form in which used (also for purchased forages).

- Cultivated forages: irrigated alfalfa, chopped green, native forage as hay; grain sorghum as silage; etc.

- By-products: rice stubble, corn; stalks stored in bundles for dry season feeding; etc.

b. Describe production practices

• Indicate the normal calendar of operations.

- For feeding operations: the normal times of purchase and sale of animals.

- For reproductive functions: normal times of calving, farrowing, and weaning.

- Indicate when animals are on pasture and when they are confined.

• For every specific practice indicate the following:

- What the practice is called locally.

- The specific input or inputs associated with the practice and the amounts applied per unit of land measurement.

- The mode of application.

- The time of application (age or development stage of the animal.)

c. Estimate yields and returns; record reported yields

• Reproductive yields: number of calves weaned per cow, pigs per sow, etc; pounds of calf per cow, pigs per sow, etc.

• Production

- Milk production per cow: daily, monthly, per lactation period.

- Rate of gain, meat animals: pounds per day, per month, per pasture season, etc.

- Feed conversion, meat animals: pounds of gain per pound of feed consumed, per pasture units occupied, etc.

• Multiply current prices by the appropriate yield factor to get estimated gross return.

3. Indicate general levels of production (crops and livestock)

a. Estimate the percentage of production marketed.

b. Identify the principal local market outlets (buyers).

c. Seasonality of marketing and prices

• Seasonal movement of the productive off the farmers: is it sold at harvest, some sold at harvest, some held for higher prices, etc.

• Seasonal fluctuations of prices (average over several years if possible.

4. List the outside production inputs which are available locally. (Available means when needed.)

a. Agricultural supplies: by brands, grades and units prices.

• Seed

• Fertilizers

• Insecticides

• Fungcides

• Nematocides

• Herbicides

• Rodenticides

• Feeds

• Feed supplements

• Veterinary supplies

• Hand tools

• Hand operated equipment

• Other supplies

b. Agricultural machinery and equipment (if used).

• Tractors

- Size (hp)

- Make

• Equipment

- Plows b. Planters

- Cultivators

- Sprayers

• Spare parts

• Other (e.g. irrigation systems)

c. Services

• Custom machinery services and rates charged: per hectare plowed, dished, planted, etc.

• Professional services (e.g. pest control): indicate whether public or private.

Useful calendars:

1. Make a generalized climate and weather calendar.

a. Normal distribution of rainfall (monthly).

• As related by farmers (dry, wet, some rain, wettest time, rainfall drops off, etc).

• Measured in millimeters, if you have access to meteorological data; your estimates if you do not have the exact data.

2. Make a calendar of agricultural activity.

a. For each of the major crop and livestock enterprises display the following

• Length and possible range of growing season in the case of crops, and reproductive cycle or feeding period of livestock. (See example on the following page.)

• Indicate times for performing critical operations and relative labor requirements of those operations.

b. Given the tote' agricultural activity within the area, indicate the relative seasonal demand for the most critical inputs.

1. Seasonal labor demand. (Indicate periods, if any, of movement of labor into or out of the area).

2. Seasonal demand for other critical inputs.

3. Make a calendar of key religious holidays and social events.

4. Combine the above calendar to show the flow of a typical agricultural year as seen by a farmer. (See ILLUSTRATION).

Surveying individual farms:

1. Locate farms

• The name of the location as it is shown locally.

• With reference to the transportation network and population and trading centers.

• With reference to primary and secondary irrigation or drainage systems.

• With reference to schools and any other local institutions.

• With reference to other farmers

2. The nature of farm ownership

a. If owned (or occupied), indicate whether the farm unit is occupied on the basis of:

• Clear and registered title.

• By understanding (custom).

• By force of occupancy.

• Other

b. If rented, indicate rental cost, terms, and security of occupancy.

• Cash rent: how much per local unit of land; when payable (before planting, after the crop); what penalties for non-payment; chance of renewal.

• Payment in kind: how much product per land unit (hundredweights/hectare, etc.); payable in the field or delivered to the landlord; what penalties for non-payment; chances of renewal.

• Share-rent: percent of the produce; when delivered to landlord; costs of cash inputs shared between landlord and tenant; security of occupancy.

c. If lands are held in common, as often is the case with pastures, qualify the rights an individual farmer has (e.g. unrestricted rights, rights to pasture ten cows, twenty ewes. etc.)

3. Description of land occupied by a farm:

a. Total farm size: measured in local land units (hectares, manzanas, cuadra, tareas, etc.)

b. Location of landholdings

• If the farm is not composed of a single unit indicate the number and size of its separate parts.

• Indicate location of landholdings with reference to the farmer's house.

c. Actual land use

• Percentage of land in cultivated crops

- Irrigated

- Non-Irrigated

- Intensive

- Perennial

• Percentage of land in pasture

• Percentage of land in woods

• Percentage of fallow or marginal land

d. Characteristics of the soil or soils which are found on the farm unit.

• Local name of soil type

• Color

• Texture

• Drainage

• Slope

• Depth

• Tilth

• Classification by local use (_______soil type is considered by local farmers to be ideal for growing ________, good for growing ___________, and poor for growing_________ ).

e. Other attributes associated with the land

• Location of water on or near the farm

- Surface water

- Sub-surface water

• Ease of access to field

• Drainage patterns; for lands bordering streams, frequency, severity, and duration of flooding.

4. Description of farm improvements and conditions.

a. Living quarters: the farm family home, or in the case of absentee owner, the renter's or the workers' quarters.

b. Improvements to the land

• Irrigation systems

Indicate what kind of system (canal, well, spring, stream-pump, overhead sprinkler, etc.) and the source of water (stream, primary canal, spring, pond or lake, or subsurface).

• Drainage systems

• Terraces

• Field access roads

• Wells (for domestic or animal water supply).

c. Buildings other than housing

• Livestock shelters

• Livestock holding pens

• Storage facilities

• General purpose facilities

• Others

d. Fencing

Is the entire farm unit fenced? Are some fields fenced and others not? What is the purpose of fencing (defensive, protection against other animals, management, better distribution of animals on pastures)? What kind of fences (barbed wire, stone, brush, etc.)?

5. Describe the farm enterprises on representative farms

a. Indicate the relative importance of each enterprise to the farm business.

• In terms of land use

• In terms of subsistence

• In terms of cash sales

b. Indicate how enterprises complement and supplement each other, or are joint enterprises.

• Complementary: Two or more enterprises occupy the same field and/or the same labor force, and yield a greater combined return then they would singly.

• Joint enterprise: Normally feed production paired with livestock production.

c. Indicate what crop rotations are followed, if any.

6. Describe production practices.

7. Account for the farm labor supply.

a. Permanent labor force

• The farm family.

Indicate the age and sex composition of the average farm family, and the extent to which famuily members contribute work to the farm enterprises.

• Permanent hired labor.

Indicate their wages or other forms of compensation and whether or not they support a family.

b. Occasional hired labor

Indicate work performed (weeding, harvest, etc.) and time and duration of their stay.

c. Exchange of labor

Labor is often exchanged among family, friends and neighbors. Indicate how these exchanges are made and for what operations.

8. Describe the annual agricultural cycle as seen by the farmer:

a. Indicate the farm operations the farmer focusses on in a given month or season.

b. List specific decisions the farmer faces during each period.

c. Outline other specific seasonal concerns that capture the farmer's attention.

d. Note the farmer's long range concerns. (See ILLUSTRATIONS)

Calculating net return on ag inputs:


1. Estimate gross return:


Sale of 1,800 lbs. of beans at 7¢ per lb.

$126.00/Hectare (Ha)

2. Estimate costs of production:


Hired labor:


Used of oxen











Purchased inputs:



$ 6.00







3. Total production costs/Ha



4. Substract total costs from estimated returns to get net returns

Estimated returns



Total costs



Net returns

$ 55.00/Ha


- Production 10 liter of milk per day x 10¢/liter = gross return of $1.00 per cow per day. Lactation period of 200 days x $1.00 = gross return per cow of $200 per year.

- 900 lb. steer sold for 16¢/lb. = gross return of $144.00.

- Market hog sold at 200 lbs. at 21¢/lb - gross return of $42.60. Estimated value of feed consumed, $24.00. Gross feeding return, $18.00.



See "Community Survey", ILLUSTRATIONS.


A farmer's history of climate changes:





Corn was normal; beans were a disaster.

Unusually heavy August rains made it impossible to harvest early season beans.


A good all around crop year.

"Digs lo quize." (Thank God)


An excellent year except for the valley farmers.

Unusually heavy precipitation over a one week period in late June resulted in flash floods.


All yields reduced.

An unusually dry year all the way through.


A reasonably good year for all crops.



Early crops were excellent. Later crops didn't pay their way.

June and July rains were normal. Drought conditions existed the remainder of the season.

1964 to 1961





Examples from field notebooks of notations on specific farming practices:

From Bean Production:


Specific Inputs

Mode of Application

Time of Application

(1) Plowing (tillage practices)

Oxen power.

Use of Spanish plow, 2 to 3

Immediately after first rain.



(2) Seeding

Local seed, 2 boxes / manzana (approximately 50# / manzana), 3 man days of labor

Planted with alespeque (digging stick) in hills approximately 12" apart, 3-4 seeds / hill.

Immediately after plowing as weather permits.

From Beef Production (Cow and Calf Operation)


Specific Inputs

Mode of Application

Time of Application

Vaccination for blackleg, pierna negra.


Veterinarian provides service.

Any time between ages 6 & 12 years of age.

Supplemental feeding of cows in dry season.

Molasses, 3-5#/ day. Cotton-seed meal, 1#/ day.

Molasses, feed free choice from pasture tanks; cottonseed meal rationed 2# every 2 days.

January through April the dry season

From Swine Production



In water.

After weaning repear in 3 months.

Supplemental feeding

Purchase supplement, 40% protein.

Mix with grain at ratio of 1 to 4.

From weaning to100 lbs. Change ratio to 1 to 5 at100 lbs.

From Milk Production


Hand milking

Cow tied in corral with calf tied to hind leg. Calf allowed to strip cow.

Once a day.

Mastitis control.

Antibiotics. (indiscriminate use.)

Farmer applies impirically according to directions on the vial .

When symptoms are severe.



Annual rainfall graphs:

The following kinds of graphs were obtained by putting questions to farmers about rainfall in two different ways. The first is based on questions about frequency of rainfall; the second on questions about the relative amounts of rain during the growing season.

Precipitation Graph, Using Frequency of Rainfall as the Measure of Seasonal Rainfall Distribution.

Rainfall Graph, Using a dry to Wet Scale to Measure Seasonal Rainfall Distribution



Crop Calendar:

Crops and cycles in a local community

1. Corn, long cycle

2. Rice, Dry-land

3. Beans

4. Corn, long cycle

Crop Calendar


Peak labor demands:

Distribution of Work and Timing of Principal Farming Operations

Peak labor demands


1. Clearing

2. Land preparation

3. Principal seeding

4. Weeding

5. Harvest


Annual agricultural cycle as perceived by a small scale cattle farmer in El Salvador:




December - January


The pasture season ends. Herds are normally reduced through sale of mature animals which are culled from the herd, and sale of young stock not required as herd replacements.

How many animals can be carried through the dry season? which animal should be sold? How many cows can be kept in milk production through the dry season? How far will dry pastures and sorghum forage stretch into the dry Season? How much feed should be purchased if any? Which heifers and heifer craves should be retained as herd replacements?

Keeping the herd in- tact: after culling will he have enough cows in production the following pasture season? Will he make a good sale on his cull cows and feeder calves? (How can he locate that buyer from last Guatemala who offered such a good price year?) Will sales cover his debts that are fallying due? Can he get feed on credit?

January - May


The dry season. Pastures dry up in January and do not revive until early June. (Rains normally start in late May.) During the dry season the higher producing cows are kept in milk production and fed the better quality dry roughage, and in many cases purchased feed supplements. Replacement cattle are fed the lower quality feed or left to survive on dry pastures.

Dividing the scarce feed supply between cows in production, dry cows, replacement stock, and calves. Purchasing molasses cottonseed meal, rice bran and cottonseed hulls as supplementary feeds. Where and how to purchase supplemental feed.

Will the supply of farm grown forages hold out? Will he be forced to sell some animals (deplete the herd) before the pasture season arrives? Can feed be purchased on credit? How to reduce the cost of purchased feed? Will additional milk sales cover the costs of purchased feed?

April - May


The time to make decisions as to how the herd will be managed through the coming pastue season. The time to build or repair fences and corrals.

Equating herd size with potential feed supply. Deciding whether or not to purchase animals. Deciding which bull to run with the herd. Deciding which pastures to renovate and whether to do it with hired labor or with a corn- sorghum cropper.

Is there enough help for the pasture season? Will the old reliable milker stay on or will he move to another farm? Should he try one of the new grasses? Should he try some fertilizer on pastures? Where to borrow some money to sustain the family and the hired men though the months of April and May?

June - December


The pasture season. All animals are on pasture. Most cows freshen (calve) in the months of June, July and August. The maximum number of cows are in milk production and peak per cow production is reached in the months of August-October. Animals are vaccinated at this time (if at all). Pastures due to be renovated are plowed up and put into a catch crop of corn and sorghum.

Division of the herd into grazing units. Once-a-day or twice a day milking. How much milk for the pail and how much for the calves? Whether or not to vaccinate and for what diseases? Breeding: turn bull or bulls loose or Breed selectively? Feed conservation for the coming dry season: set aside dry season pasture; make hay or silage; sorghum stover? Care of sick or injured animals.

Are price prospects good for cheese or fluid milk? Other animals breaking into the pastures. Potential theft of animals in isolated pastures. Freshening dates of cows (keeping them in cycle). Producing a surplus of feed to carry into the dry season. Getting good gains on the calves for later sale as feeders.

Year to Year


Long Range Considerations

Whether to emphasize beef or dairy production. Whether to sell milk while or as cheese. How to increase feed supply, especially for the dry season. Whether or not to invest in more land, farm improvements, a new bull, etc. What breed to use?

What is the future of the farm? Which of the children will stay on the farm? Should I try new practices? How to reduce debts? Is the investment in fertilizer use, an irrigation pump, new fencing, etc. worth the risks of incurring additional debts? How can I enjoy life (work less)? Should I join the cattleman's association.


Complementarity of farming operations:

Beans following corn: When early season corn is near maturity beans, (climbing variety) are sown in the corn fields. Corn stalks provide support for beans.

Sorghum interplanted in corn: Local varieties of sorghum are sown between rows hen corn is knee high, sorghum continues to grow after corn matures, even under adverse soil moisture conditions.

Sweet potatoes - swine: Sweet potatoes grown for cash market, tops of plants provide green feed for hogs.

Alfalfa production - milk production: Alfalfa cut at six week intervals are fed to cows.

Grain production - poultry or swine production.

A calendar of major religious festivals and holidays in a small village: