So Why Care About Little Farms? Pt. I

Small farms produce only a vanishingly small portion of our food and fiber and are home to a similarly small number of citizens.

Small farms typically produce only a fraction of the total household income by farming - the balance provided by non-farm income.

In fact, according to a group of Purdue University agricultural economists in 2002:
An economically viable crop/livestock operation in the Corn Belt would have between 2,000 and 3,000 acres of row crops and between 500 and 600 sows.

Small farms are at a disadvantage complying with new health/pollution/certification regulations and so lag behind larger producers in implementation.

Since they are poorly capitalized (if capitalized at all) they are ill-equipped to take advantage of advances in technology whether mechanical, electronic, genetic, or any other for that matter.

So why care about the future of an outdated production model left behind in the wake of modern technology?

The quick answer is modern technology is predicated on cheap, non-renewable resources, Andy Rooney's grand dad knew that...

I'm not a "Believer" in impending doom, but I agree with Andy that it is out there somewhere. When it comes to food, those starving people you see on TV aren't starving due to our inability to grow enough food but rather of poverty, corruption of their government, or their inability to acquire land to grow their own.

The world today produces more food per inhabitant than ever before. Enough food is available to provide 4.3 pounds for every person everyday: 2.5 pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of meat, milk and eggs and another of fruits and vegetables.

So again if modern farms are so good at growing food, why be concerned about small farms?

The first hint is "modern" equals energy intensive:

It takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce one calorie of food energy. (Pimentel)

Ever since we ran out of arable land, food is oil. Every single calorie we eat is backed by at least a calorie of oil, more like ten. *2

The entire industrial era has been based on cheap and easily accessible energy, first old growth forests, then surface coal, and for most of the past century, relatively shallow deposits of oil. The world is not running out of fossil energy; by most estimates about half of the earth’s total fossil energy reserves are still in the ground. However, all of the easy sources of fossil energy are gone.*3

Now don't get all worried that having read this far I'm now going to try and convince you we all need to go back to grubbing in the dirt for spuds, that isn't my intention. What I do want to investigate, among other things, are methods using less, much less, energy.

Again this isn't going to turn into a rapturous rant on a particular Guru's idea of Agricultural Nirvana - you can bet there are book store shelves filled with those titles.

At any rate next time I'll talk more about some other difficulties with modern ag.

*2 The Oil We Eat -- Richard Manning -
*3 Ikerd