Myth 4: Industrial agriculture is efficient

Not true. Small-scale farms produce more agricultural products per hectare.

Marco Visscher | April 2003 issue

The bigger the farm, the more efficient, claim the advocates of industrial agriculture. Although they admit that large farms lead to the disappearance of family farms and rural communities, they maintain that this is simply the inevitable result of efficient food production. The introduction of ‘mega technology’ in industrial agriculture has only reinforced their views.

‘Bigger is better’ may have a nice ring to it, but its applicability to food production is disputable at best. Studies continue to show that small farmers are in fact more efficient than their larger, industrial, counterparts. As farms get bigger their per-unit production costs increase because larger surfaces require more expensive machines and more chemical additives to protect the crops. Furthermore, this method of cultivation damages the topsoil, the most fertile layer of the ground. In Europe and the United States, topsoil is disappearing 17 times faster than nature can reproduce it.

Large-scale industrial agriculture often means cultivating a single-crop. Monoculture, as it is known, undermines the genetic purity of crops making them more susceptible to disease. As a result, crops need more pesticides to maintain the same level of production – a classic case of the law of diminishing returns.

The notion that bigger means more efficient is partly a problem of definition. The ‘yield’ can be perceived as production per crop hectare. A grain farmer’s degree of efficiency is thus evaluated on the tonnes of grain per hectare produced. According to this logic, high single-crop yields are, indeed, most easily achieved using the monoculture approach.

With small-scale farmers planting multiple crops the yield per crop is lower, but the total yield per hectare is considerably higher. They plant crops in the empty spaces where weeds would grow in monoculture fields. They are also more likely to rotate crops each season or combine cultivation with cattle breeding and use the manure to boost the fertility of the soil. From this perspective, small-scale farmers are more efficient, producing much more per unit than large-scale farmers.

Various government reports recognise this fact. Small-scale farms produce some 2 to 10 times more per hectare than their large-scale peers. According to a US government study, the smallest farms (up to 27 hectares) are over 10 times more productive than the largest farms (6,000 hectares or more) and extremely small farms (up to four hectares) can be over 100 times more productive. Small-scale farming is efficient farming.

 

Solution News Source

Myth 4: Industrial agriculture is efficient

Not true. Small-scale farms produce more agricultural products per hectare.

Marco Visscher | April 2003 issue

The bigger the farm, the more efficient, claim the advocates of industrial agriculture. Although they admit that large farms lead to the disappearance of family farms and rural communities, they maintain that this is simply the inevitable result of efficient food production. The introduction of ‘mega technology’ in industrial agriculture has only reinforced their views.

‘Bigger is better’ may have a nice ring to it, but its applicability to food production is disputable at best. Studies continue to show that small farmers are in fact more efficient than their larger, industrial, counterparts. As farms get bigger their per-unit production costs increase because larger surfaces require more expensive machines and more chemical additives to protect the crops. Furthermore, this method of cultivation damages the topsoil, the most fertile layer of the ground. In Europe and the United States, topsoil is disappearing 17 times faster than nature can reproduce it.

Large-scale industrial agriculture often means cultivating a single-crop. Monoculture, as it is known, undermines the genetic purity of crops making them more susceptible to disease. As a result, crops need more pesticides to maintain the same level of production – a classic case of the law of diminishing returns.

The notion that bigger means more efficient is partly a problem of definition. The ‘yield’ can be perceived as production per crop hectare. A grain farmer’s degree of efficiency is thus evaluated on the tonnes of grain per hectare produced. According to this logic, high single-crop yields are, indeed, most easily achieved using the monoculture approach.

With small-scale farmers planting multiple crops the yield per crop is lower, but the total yield per hectare is considerably higher. They plant crops in the empty spaces where weeds would grow in monoculture fields. They are also more likely to rotate crops each season or combine cultivation with cattle breeding and use the manure to boost the fertility of the soil. From this perspective, small-scale farmers are more efficient, producing much more per unit than large-scale farmers.

Various government reports recognise this fact. Small-scale farms produce some 2 to 10 times more per hectare than their large-scale peers. According to a US government study, the smallest farms (up to 27 hectares) are over 10 times more productive than the largest farms (6,000 hectares or more) and extremely small farms (up to four hectares) can be over 100 times more productive. Small-scale farming is efficient farming.

 

Solution News Source

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