The Economics of Small Farms

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Science  04 Mar 1983:
Vol. 219, Issue 4588, pp. 1037-1041
DOI: 10.1126/science.219.4588.1037


The role of the small farm in American agriculture has been the focus of much public discussion since Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland elevated farm structure to the national political agenda during the Carter Administration. Eight hypotheses based on common assertions concerning the alleged advantages of the small farm were tested in the light of available empirical evidence. No basis was found to accept any of the eight hypotheses. There may be reasons to preserve and even encourage small farms but they are not the reasons commonly given for political initiatives and public policies favoring small farms. Although it is questionable whether any size of farm can be viewed as optimal, the strongest case is for the typical moderate-size family farm of today rather than for small farms or large industrial-type farms.