[Market-farming] the future of small farms

Tradingpost tradingpost at lobo.net
Thu Feb 8 12:21:59 EST 2007

"While the “bigger is better” myth is generally accepted, it is a
fallacy. Numerous reports have found that smaller farms are actually more
efficient than larger “industrial” farms. These studies demonstrate
that when farms get larger, the costs of production per unit often
increase, because larger acreage requires more expensive machinery and more
chemicals to protect crops... Though the yield per unit area of one crop -
corn, for example - may be lower, the total output per unit area for small
farms, often composed of more than a dozen crops and numerous animal
products, is virtually always higher than that of larger farms... Clearly,
if we are to compare accurately the productivity of small and large farms,
we should use total agricultural output, balanced against total farm inputs
and “externalities,” rather than single-crop yield as our measurement
principle. Total output is defined as the sum of everything a small farmer
produces - various grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products
- and is the real benchmark of efficiency in farming. Moreover,
productivity measurements should also take into account total input costs,
including large-machinery and chemical use, which often are left out of the
equation in the yield efficiency claims."
from http://www.keepmainefree.org/myth3.html

"... the output of the average European farm is remarkably efficient and
diverse, obvious corollaries of intensive agriculture. Europe's small
farmers have traditionally produced the bulk of the food eaten in Europe
and have made a good living for themselves in the process. There is no
reason why regionally based, small-scale food production cannot be
successful again in the United States, especially since dwindling suplies
of fossil fuels are likely to drive up transportation costs ..." (Eliot
Coleman in The New Organic Grower p.21)

"Of course, farms and ranches can also be too small to be sustainable -
they can't generate enough income, can’t take care of the land, nor
provide a good place to live.  But, farmers who rely on “alternative”
farming methods - reduce input costs, market in the niches, build
relationships, etc. - can generate more net income with fewer acres of land
and fewer dollars invested.  An intensively managed sustainable farm may
generate fifty cents, or more, in net farm income for each dollar of sales.
 Thus, a farm with $100,000 in sales can generate $50,000 in net farm
income and a farm classified by USDA as “non-commercial” may add
$25,000 or more to farm household income." - Professor John Ikerd in Small
Farm Today Magazine, September-October, 2003

paul tradingpost at lobo.net

*********** REPLY SEPARATOR  ***********

On 2/8/2007 at 11:57 AM STEVE GILMAN wrote:

>Hi Bob,
>	I appreciate your considerable farming expertise as you've expressed  
>through your posts over the years.
>	I know numerous small-scale organic farmers who would be quite  
>surprised at your statement, below, however. In addition to some 30  
>years as an organic  grower I also had the privilege of working on a  
>3 year research project with a couple of dozen exemplary organic  
>farmers in the northeast (<www.neon.cornell.edu>) utilizing  
>collaborating scientists from numerous disciplines to investigate  
>multiple systemic aspects of organic production, including the  
>economic component. By some conventional standards they didn't have a  
>McMansion or a garage full of SUV's to show for their years of work,  
>for sure. But by appropriate living standards they were doing great   
>economically and leading healthy, productive, and fulfilled lives. On  
>the other side, I'd have to say there's a lot of financial wealthy  
>folks out there leading empty lives and desperately trying to  
>overcome an impoverishment of soul.
>	It's my understanding you're not an organic grower, correct?  
>Overall, I'd say you're right in your depictions of the conventional   
>food system -- the emphasis on Yield favors the big producers at the  
>expense of the small growers. The history of NJ, "The Garden State"  
>is one of usurpation of local markets by big producers from further  
>and further away once the railroads standardized their track gauges  
>and then introduced refrigerated transport. The value-added organic  
>alternative food has considerable cache among eaters in the food  
>economy, however -- enough to put more and more farms on the map and  
>keep them there, with decent incomes to boot. As we head into an  
>uncertain future with energy shortages and global warming  
>dislocations we'll see which lifesyles are truly sustainable.
>	While energy issues and the increasing preference by chefs,  
>consumers, schools etc. for locally grown food stands to lift all  
>boats, conventional and organic -- I'd have to say that for organic  
>farmers, at least, the future is so bright, they have to wear shades...
>Steve Gilman
>Ruckytucks Farm

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