How small farms can survive in today’s “go big or go home” society
When you think of farming and agriculture what would likely come across in your mind would be vast areas of crop as far as the eyes can see, big machine harvesters, elaborate irrigation systems, and of course the scare crow. This is the farmland that you will mostly find in the Western part of the world such as America and Europe. That is the kind of farm that the world supposedly require. The world’s population has grown to 7.7 billion as of March 2020, and to provide that amount of population with enough nutrition farms have to be astoundingly large. These farms would not only feed the locality they are in but also populations in other regions or countries, exporting their crops and other produce to those requiring them. These farms yield literally tons of produce on a daily basis for an industry that is worth billions.
Small farms are those that you would imagine existing in the earlier days of agriculture, where populations are small and the community more closely knit. They are also quite common in rural areas that supplies local villages with seasonal fruits and vegetables. But small scale farming seems to be in a steady decline as land continue to be taken away for modern developments. Their numbers continue to decrease as rural communities also begin to outsource their food. While population numbers can be attributed for this outsourcing demand, another reason could be that diets have began to diversify. As rural communities began to spread they are exposed to different cultures and foods.
However, arguably the main contributor to the decline in small farming is the need for wealth. Many argue that large farms have better economies of scale and the immense yield creates greater revenue. While that may be theoretically sound, it would not explain how small scale farms that exists today continue to thrive and become economically sustainable. This is especially evident in Second and Third World countries where small farms continue to thrive as the major sources of food crops. In fact studies have shown that although small farms are much less wealthier in terms of revenue, they are considerably more efficient in both yield and economy and contribute.
To understand how this is so we need to break down how both of these farms are operated and managed. Larger farms as we have well established consist of hectares of land that would require machinery to be managed effectively. One major characteristic of a large farm is that they are mostly monoculture. Monoculture farms only produce a single type of crop. These farms have yields that can support industrial demands and will generate high revenue. One major drawback of a large farm is efficiency in land usage. Large farms are monoculture because they can be run more efficiently with specialized heavy machinery that can only work with certain types of crops. For example lettuce harvesters cannot be made to work with root vegetables, and the farmland can only be made to accommodate one or the other. And to accommodate for the heavy machines large farms are inherently less densely packed with crops, reducing their efficiency in terms of annual yield per acreage.
Small farms on the other hand are made as big as they can practically be without having to use machinery for harvesting. Farmers of small-scale farms also usually make their farms much denser and they employ the practice of intercropping. Different types of crops are grown in a small farm and quite commonly the different plants are planted in alternating rows. The secondary crop is planted in the empty rows in between the main crop. The advantage of this practice is first the density. Per unit area of land small farms have a greater amount of crop. Secondly, after a harvest large monoculture farms produce great yield but the farm will have nothing else for the farmers to use. Small farms with intercropping can have a second harvest. So per unit land area a small farm can have the same amount of yield as a large farm per harvest, but annually the smaller farm with intercropping can be harvested more frequently therefore have greater annual yield. The different crops can also be of high value but low maintenance. The crops in small farms are often in high demand at the community they are in.
Small farm economy is an interesting topic of study and has been under scrutiny by agricultural experts and economists. Contrary to popular belief small farms may continue to be a significant contributor in our modern society and generate sizeable wealth even as our civilization continue to advance. They can create a sustainable economy for modern rural communities, and with access to advanced communications technology and mobility they can also participate in the modern economic landscape. Small farms can generate even greater income than before thanks to social movements such as farm-to-table, and the emergence of online delivery service. While traditionally they sell their harvest in local farmers markets, vegetable delivery is also a viable business model for small farms to increase their source of income and expand their customer base. The logistical aspect of the delivery service also creates more jobs which further aids in the local economic development.
The final word on small scale farming is that the increase in population, modern ideology, and advances in technology means that they can remain relevant and contribute significantly in our society for many years to come.