A Comparative Analysis of Production and Resource Efficiency: Small versus Large Farms in U.S. Agriculture
Agriculture , Small scale
Increases in human population and consumption have placed unprecedented demands on food systems and natural resources. Consequently, food production systems of the future will not only depend on, but must contribute positively to, healthy ecosystems and resilient communities. Emerging evidence advocates for the importance of small farm agriculture and localized food systems as the means in which to address many of the underlying causes of deteriorating agricultural productivity while aiding in the conservation of natural resources. This study illustrates an alternative to large conventional farming – one that provides evidence of bettering society and preserving the natural environment. Specifically, the alternative to large conventional farming makes use of a land-based perspective, which replaces farm income as the prevailing methodology of farm scale analysis and provides previously non-existing information on agricultural trends in the United States (U.S.). The findings gleaned from utilizing this land-based perspective suggest that small farms, relative to large farms, produce a comparable amount of food per acre – supported by both direct and indirect measures. In particular, the output value gained for each unit of land input was significantly greater for small farms even though overall production efficiency favoured large farms. Further, while the extent of resource input was lower for small farms, the intensity of use per unit of land was correspondingly greater. Nevertheless, environmental merit was still indicated based on the significant proportion of woodland preserved in small farm landholdings as compared to the minor proportion preserved by large farms. Lastly, while both small and large farms provide a composite of varying social benefit, small farms display the greatest social merit in terms of job provision and public accessibility, both of which are proven to increase the resilience and sustainability of agricultural food systems.