> which favors bigness and which actively disfavors the economic
> competitiveness of small to medium sized farmers,
I get the idea we're comparing apples and oranges. In no other field do
we assume that everyone should compete equally. There are advantages to
being small, flexible, responsive, etc. Are we trying to make sure
everyone can make a living growing corn or cotton or rice? Is that
> Does society somehow benefit from a few large farms?
I have a hard time seeing if it makes any difference. None of us gripes
that Bud of California and a few others grow most of the lettuce? These
farmers are already huge. There is still room for specialty farmers who
raise garlic or special mushrooms or you name it - but not many people
can compete with Bud in growing lettuce.
>I found to my surprise when informally exploring the scale-sensitivity of profit and efficiency indices that both seem
> to be rather flat above the level of a hobby farm
This would seem to me to support the benefit of flexibility if a farmer
is "right sized"
> 2. What is the scale-dependence of environmental impact from
> agriculture? We can all think of specific case examples to support
> either extreme, but in the aggregate, who is most likely to exert the
> greatest adverse impact on the environment, and ultimately, society?
> In other words, in this era of increasing environmental awareness,
> what are the environmental ramifications of explicitly favoring one
> farm size over another?
In my own opinion, the main role size would play is the ability to handle
risk either in trying new crops or in self-insuring.
> 3. How has food security been impacted by this governmentally driven
> push to "bigness"? I was quite intrigued when preparing a recently
> delivered paper on the Need for Long Term Experimentation to learn
> that yield variability (CV) has actually increased rather than
> decreased in response to the high yield paradigm being actively
> promoted under government incentives. Say what?
It makes sense that yields are more sensitive relatively. We're pushing
the envelope. Small changes will have leveraged effect in this range.
> The upshot of this is that when combined with the high level of
> specialization in modern agriculture (which reduces the potential for
> on-farm buffering against the vagaries of whatever), the "risk" of
> agriculture really cannot be absorbed on the farm anymore, and has
> now been transferred to society, in the form of subsidy and insurance
When I was young, we raised chickens, sold eggs, milk, cream, etc. as
well as the main crops. You can still do this, but it's labor and time
intensive and you are much more exposed to market risk. It's pretty hard
to sell eggs as cheap as the big factories do. Nevertheless, if you're
willing to trade labor for equity, you can do this.
Better than that would be a high value-added product that actually
returns you a living you can educate your children on. I think the
sustainable people would make most gains by helping improve the economic
benefits of small-medium farm sustainable polices. Kill lots of birds
with a few stones. And no subsidies.
Finally, - a question. What will be the effect of GATT on government
subsidies, policies, and the ability to promote specializaiton or value
adding? Will trade equalization make this entire issue moot as the big
guys from Brazil or Australia overtake the small guy from Arkansas (just
as we have done the same to others)?