Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Proponents of mega-farming often insist that highly mechanized, chemical intensive industrial agriculture produces food more effciently than small scale farming. I have already written about The Myth Of Large Farm Productivity, as well as the Energy Cost Of Food to show that this is false economically as well as energetically. Below are the facts against the proposed "efficiency" of mega-farming from the book Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy Of Industrial Agriculture:

Is bigger better?
Numerous reports have found that smaller farms are actually more efficient than larger "industrial" farms. ... 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. ... small farms almost always produce far more agricultural output per unit area than larger farms. This is now widely recognized by agricultural economists across the political spectrum, as the 'inverse relationship between farm size and output.' ... even the World Bank now advocates redistributing land to small farmers in the third world as a step toward increasing overall agricultural productivity.
Output versus Yield:
... how does the "bigger is better" myth survive? ... because of a deeply flawed method of measuring farm "productivity" ... as the production per unit area of a single crop. ... 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. 
Though the yield per unit area of one crop may be lower, the total output per unit area of small farms, often composed of more than a dozen crops and numerous animal products, is virtually always higher than that of larger farms. 
There is virtual consensus that large farms do not make as good use of even [farm labor and modern technology] because of management and labor problems inherent in large operations. Mid sized and many smaller farms come far closer to peak efficiency when these factors are calculated.
- pg 56-57, Fatal Harvest.



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