The impact of farm size on agricultural sustainability

14-02-2019 | Publication

Farm size plays a critical role in agricultural sustainability. This may have far-reaching consequences for the economic and environmental performance of agricultural production, resulting, for instance, in an excessive use of mineral fertilizers.

The magnitude of effects of farm size and their main causes are not well understood, while being essential for effective policy development, especially for countries like China where the agricultural sector is still largely dominated by smallholder farms.

This paper reviews the current understanding of how farm size affects agricultural sustainability using China's crop farming as an example from economic, environment and social aspects. We analyze impacts from both a Chinese and a global perspective to identify intervention points to improve agricultural performance. We found that increasing farm size has a positive impact on farmer’s net profit, as well as economic, technical and labor efficiency with mean coefficients 0.005, 0.02 and 2.25 in economic performance, respectively.

Nevertheless, the relationships between farm size and overall productivity, total factor productivity and allocative efficiency are still not well understood and therefore require more research. Meanwhile, increase in farm size is associated with statistically significant decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use per hectare, showing clear benefits for environmental protection.

In line with the experiences documented for the evolution of agricultural practices in developed countries, the expansion of large-scale farming is a critical path for modernizing agricultural production and ensuring sustainable food production from the social perspective. Measures concerning farm size should be implemented in an interaction between farmers and the government to promote the green development of agriculture.