A COMPARISON OF CONSTRAINTS TO TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION
ON LARGE AND SMALL FARMS
BRUCE A. DEHM
M.S. THESIS PROPOSAL
COMMITTEE: Dr. PETER E.HILDEBRANn, CHAIRMAN
Dr. TIMOTHY A. OLSON, MEMBER
Dr. JON VAN BLOKLAND, MEMBER
Table of Contents
Linear Programming as a Descriptive Tool
Linear Programming as a Diagnostic Tool
List of Figures
1. Farm Numbers for U.S.,Florida, Suwannee County,
2. Average Farm Size in Acres for U.S., Florida,and
Suwannee County,Florida, 1870-1978. 4b
3. Number of Farms by Acres Harvested,Florida,1945-
4. Number of Farms by Value of Sales, Florida, 1978. 5b
5. Value of Products Sold by Size of Sales, Florida,
6. Map of Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida. 13a
7. Product and Labor Flows for a Full-Time Small
Farm in Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida 14a
8. Product and Labor Flows for a Part-Time Small
Farm in Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida. 15a
9. Product and Labor Flows for a Full-Time Large
Farm in Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida. 16a
A COMPARISON OF CONSTRAINTS TO TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION
ON LARGE AND SMALL FARMS
In the fertile environment of competitive markets and
dynamic technical change, the processes involved with the
production of people's food and fiber have undergone tremendous
change. The widespread application of science and technology
to agriculture has greatly increased the efficiency of
production factors such as labor and land in the U.S. in the
last 50 years. Never before in the history of humankind have
so few people produced food for so many. Since 1933 the volume
of labor engaged in agricultural production has decreased more
than 70 percent, while the average per acre yields in corn and
wheat have increased more than 340 percent and 220 percent
respectively (Cochrane, 1979, p. 130). Americans enjoy one of
the highest standards of living ever achieved and much of the
credit lies in the high productivity of its agricultural base.
These achievements have not come without certain costs
however. Agriculture in the late 20th century has become a
highly technical, capital intensive complex in our industrial
society. The technical, financial and managerial revolutions
that have transformed U.S. farms from the 18th century
Jeffersonian concept of a self-sufficient, non-commercial
entity into the present day agricultural firm that is input
intensive and profit oriented have produced many social,
economic and environmental ramifications. We are surrounded
almost daily with public concern of the social and economic
consequences of resource concentration, corporate agriculture,
rural decay of farming communities, limited access to land and
capital, and long range environmental effects of chemical
fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Arguments concerning
the positive and negative aspects of the social and economic
consequences, and whether or not public policy can or should be
used to direct these changes has precipitated into what has
become known as "the structure issue".(Paarlberg, p. 129) Farm
structure is defined as "the control and organization of
resources needed for farm production. Its dimensions include
the number of sizes of farms-by commodities and by regions, the
degree of specialization in production and the technology
employed, the ownership and control of productive resources,
barriers to entry and exit in farming, and the social, economic
and political situation of farmers." (Rasmusson, p. 3)
The attendant farm structure controversies are complex
and interrelated. Furthermore, economic considerations are no
longer the sole criteria in the formulation of solutions.
Legal, ethical and philosophical principles have also come to
play an important role in determining public policy in
The role and importance of the American family farm is
one controversy in particular that has received much attention
in recent years. Undoubtedly, the survival of the family farm
in modern America is a complicated issue that involves deep
emotional beliefs as well as economic and political
ramifications. The American family farm evokes visions of
hardworking and godfearing men, women and children who worked
to tame a new land with their staunch individualism and
independent value system. Over the years however, the concept
and definition of the family farm has changed considerably.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, hired labor and labor
saving technology were limited, which meant that most farms
"rarely expanded beyond a size that could be operated by a
single family."(Brewster,p.18) The phrase "family farm" itself
may not have been part of American vocabulary until the early
20th century, but concepts and beliefs of economic
self-sufficiency and wide distribution of land were important
socially and politically as a means to ensure responsible
citizenship and a republican form of government. These values
have carried over into the 20th century and account for the
notion that family farmers are the backbone of
In the early 20th century, family farms were considered
those farms that were capable of supporting and fully employing
a family. In the 1940s, this definition was expanded to
include a moderate amount of outside labor to help maintain the
farm plant but still excluded farms that received off-farm
income as part of the total farm-family income. During the
1950s and 1960s however, total farm numbers in general declined
dramatically with part-time farms being the only group to
increase in absolute number. Political expediency deemed it
necessary to include these part-time farms in the family farm
definition to mitigate the drastic decline in the number of
family farms. The modern definition has eliminated the
concepts of economic self-sufficiency. "The family farm is a
primary agricultural business in which the operator is a
risk-taking manager, who with his family does most of the
farmwork and performs most of the managerial
The dramatic decline in the numbers of medium and small
family farms in the past few decades has alarmed many
Americans. Nationally, as figure 1 indicates, the total number
of farms has decreased 40 percent to 2.7 million between 1935
and 1978. During the same period, average farm size (figure 2)
has increased from 140 acres to nearly 400 acres. The
concentration of production has also change greatly over the
past few decades. In 1978, farms that sold less than $40,000
of produce represented 78 percent of all farms, but only 18
percent of all sales. Farms with sales above $100,000
constituted 7.1 percent of all farms, yet generated 56 percent
of the total sales. In terms of acreage, 6.6 percent of the
farms encompass 54.1 percent of the land in farms. These data
indicate that production is being concentrated into a
relatively small number of large farms.(USDA,1981,p.42-3.)
U.S. Census of Agriculture and USDA data indicate that
structural changes in Florida are similar to national trends.
As illustrated in figures 1 and 2, Florida farm numbers have
decreased 39.5 percent while average acreage per farm has
increased 363 percent during the 1935-1978 period. Although
the Florida figures show a recent (since 1978) surge in farm
numbers and decrease in farm size, these trends are due mainly
to an increase in small "hobby" or "retirement" farms, locally
I LI k -4-
Qt.5 '5FLoRiA ,5vAnne
Number of Farms
o = U.S.
x = Florida
. = Suwannee County
Average Farm Size (acres)
o = U.S.
x = Florida
= Suwannee County
S1/o 191o / 30 / o
/ -0 / /Y 70
iw Io 1 Se 1/9o
known as "ranchettes". As indicated in figure 3, and Census
data, a majority of new farms are in the less than 10 acre
category. These figures do not speak for the plight of the
small and medium sized family farms, but indicate rather the
recent migration from urban to rural areas in Florida.
Concentration of productive resources is higher in Florida
than nationally. Figures 4 and 5 show that in 1978, 82 percent
of all farms sold less than $40,000 of produce, but represented
only 8 percent of total sales. Farms with sales above $100,000
constituted 9.6 percent of all farms, yet generated 84.4
percent of total sales.
Concern for the welfare of the family farm has been broad
based. Congressional affirmation of "the family farm system
(as being) essential to the social well-being of the Nation..."
(Food and Agriculture Act of 1977,p.7) is a clear indication of
public support and concern for a troubled agricultural sector.
Likewise,the Florida legislature has shown its concern for the
family farm with the recent passage of a "Right To Farm" bill
which stregnthens the position of long-time farmers faced with
complaints from encroaching urban residents over noise and
odors from agricultural operations. (Moses,1982.,
Wershow,personal communication) In 1981, the Florida
Legislature authorized and funded a Govenor's Conference on the
Future of Small Farms to inform political leaders of the small
farmer situation so that "public policy (can be managed) in
ways that will encourage small farms to continue in profitable
operation." (Lt.Gov. Wayne Mixon ( Moses,1982)) Structural
issues that require further study and resolution abound. These
1,000 do- qqj
-- -a. -
Figure 3: Number of Farms by Acres Harvested, Florida
Source: U.S. Census of Ag.
Farms by Value of Sales: 1978
Less than 2,500
$2,500 to $4,999
$100,000 or more
$40,000 to $99,999
. "-- 8.3%
$20,000 to $39,999
$10,000 to $19,999
$5,000 to $9,999
Value of Products
Sold by Size of Sales:
$10,000 to $19,999
$20,000 to $39,999 3.5% ----
$40,000 to $99,999
Less than $10,000
$100,000 or nxm
range from arriving at a general consensus on the exact nature
of farmer problems, to farm size definition, tax, credit,
marketing, income equity and agricultural trade and pricing
The focus of this thesis will include a structural issue
that is concerned with the relationship between available
technology and farm size. Many factors contribute to the
previously indicated trends in U.S. farm structure. These
include the price level of agricultural products and factors of
production, and the availability of credit, competitive markets
and information. Technology also plays an important role in
these trends in that land augmenting technology (hybrids,
seeds, chemical fertilizers,etc.) has allowed huge increases in
yields per acre, while labor augmenting technology (tractors
and other mechanical equipment) has allowed individuals to
cultivate more land with less labor. The "technological
treadmill" (Cochrane, 1979) theory suggests that aggressive,
innovative farmers adopt new, cost-reducing technology and
increase their profit position relative to late or non-adoptors
of new technology. In a competitive free market system, the
farmers who are able to reduce per unit cost the most in the
long run are able to survive because as output expands, product
price falls and squeezes the high cost producers out of
farming. The process is referred to as a.treadmill because new
technology is continually made available to farmers, and since
there are always aggressive and innovative early adoptors, the
remaining farmers must follow suit and adopt the new cost
reducing technology or eventually be forced out of farming. As
a result, technical change "frequently provides an advantage to
those who seek or can readily adopt to change; but at the same
time, it usually puts some at a disadvantage those who do not
or can not readily adopt to change."(USDA,1981,p.127)1/
In light of the technological treadmill theory and of the
structural trends in U.S. agriculture, questions arise about
the nature of new technologies being produced for farmers. Is
it possible that much of the new agricultural technology is
biased towards the large-scale agricultural firm that is
managed by the aggressive, early adoptors, and thus exacerbates
the technological treadmill? Could much of this new technology
contain inherent prerequisites for successful application that
are beyond the grasp of most small and medium-sized family
farms? Many of the new farming practices and technologies are
purported to be "scale neutral", implying proportionate
availability and equal value to both large and small scale
farms. To what degree is this statement true in North Florida?
1/ However,this is not to suggest that the treadmill is
the sole inducement behind the changes in farm structure. The
treadmill process as described can be considered a "push"
process in that it eliminates farmers against their will.
However,concurrent with U.S. post WW II development have come
many off-farm employment opportunities in the industrial,
professional and service sectors of the economy. The amenities
offered by such opportunities have served to "pull" people from
rural areas and allow them alternative life-styles that the
farm could not provide. Thus we see that changes in the farm
structure are due to elements that both "push" and "pull"
farmers out of agriculture.
This thesis will investigate and attempt to answer these
questions in the context of contemporary farming systems found
in the north central region of Florida.
The task of defining the terms small, medium and large
scale farms is not easy.. Many researchers follow the U.S.D.A.
method of catagorizing farm size based on gross cash farm
sales, as was done earlier in this paper. Although these types
of definitions are useful when describing general trends, they
fail to consider many characteristics that qualitatively
differentiate farms by size. For this study, size, either in
terms of product sales or land area is only marginally useful
in separating large and small farming systems. Other important
classification criteria lie in the production strategies, the
patterns of household consumption, and the interaction between
production and consumption activities, with the various
beliefs, value systems and goals held by family and larger than
family farmers being the underpinnings of such strategies and
Even though each farmer has his own motivation for
farming, there seems to be sufficient homogeneity between
farmers of similar farming systems to suggest that in general,
motivational factors, production strategies and consumption
activities are different between the small and medium sized
family farms, and the larger than family sized farms. The
assumption for this thesis will be that larger than family
farms operate more as a business and rely on the farm primarily
as a means to produce income, wealth and profit. In North
Florida, these farming systems are often chacterized by fewer
and larger farm enterprises that require hired labor and six
and eight row machinery. The production strategy is calculated
for high yields on large acreages with the use of large amounts
of fixed and operating capital as a means of insuring
successful crops.(i.e. irrigation, chemical weed and pest
control) To a large degree, production decisions on the farm
enterprises are made separately from consumption decisions in
the household and visa versa.
Medium and small family farmers on the other hand perceive
their farm as a home first, a desirable and cherished lifestyle
that they wish to maintain. Family living expenses and
production costs are more likely to compete for the same scarce
resources, so that production decisions on the farm and
consumption patterns in the household are more closely linked.
Production strategy is calculated for yields that are roughly
one third to one half the size of those on larger than family
farms for many crops in North Florida. Two and four row
equipment, enterprise diversity, integration between crops and
livestock, and a high utilization of farm products by the
household typify many of these farming systems.
Small-scale family farmers in N. Florida are unable or
unwilling to adopt input intensive agricultural production
techniques because these practices require resources or impose
other conditions that the farmer does not have, is uhable to
obtain, or is unwilling to accept.
Economic, social and environmental constraints prevent
small and medium scale family farmers in N. Florida from
adopting agricultural production techniques employed by large
Identify typical large scale farming system and typical
small scale farming systems in the Suwannee, Columbia County
area of N. Florida. This will include describing the nature of
the farming systems and defining the production and consumption
activities that occur within them.
Identify and quantify the major social, economic and
biophysical constraints facing both small family farms and
large scale farms in the two county region.
Determine the constraints of small farms that limit the
adoption of farming practices and technologies that are
utilized on large farms in the study area.
Based on the findings of a linear programming analysis,
determine why small farms have not adopted the technology and
recommended practices used on large scale farms, and to make
recommendations pertaining to the necessary characteristics of
new technology for small farms in the study area.
1. DATA COLLECTION:
The input/output coefficients for the activities and the
values for the constraint coefficients for a linear programming
analysis will be estimated mainly from primary sources of
information. The author has been involved with corn and wheat
enterprise record keeping projects in the study area for 22
months in conjunction with the North Florida Farming Systems
Research and Extension Program. Data compiled from past and
future farmer interviews will be the source for much of the
activity and constraint coefficients, but sources such as local
markets, county extension agents and other individuals involved
in agriculture will also be utilized. Where necessary,
available and relevant published data will be used.
2. Linear Programming as a Descriptive Tool:
The analysis will utilize linear programming as a
whole-farm modeling technique to describe the activities,
0 5 10 t5 20
0 5 10 1 15
Figure 6: Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida.
-- -Y I s-
constraints and objectives of three separate contemporary
farming systems found in Suwannee and Columbia Counties of N.
Florida. This area (fig.6) has an extensive agricultural
background with a predominance of medium and small sized farms.
In 1965, the number of farms and farmers in Suwannee County
ranked second in the state of Florida. (U.S.D.A.,1965) Flue
cured tobacco, watermelons, corn, peanuts, soybeans and small
grains, as well as hogs and cattle are the major farm
That linear programming can be used to model whole farms
as a system is well documented. (Dalton, McCarl, Ghodake) This
thesis will use linear programming to first simulate three
predetermined, representative farms: the first will be a
full-time,small family farm, the second a part-time small
family farm, and the third a full-time,large farm. The
whole-farm models will take into account the various types of
decision criteria, management practices and technologies used
within the three representative systems with changes in the
input/output activity coefficients.
Constraints in the models will be divided into the
following classes: 1) resource restrictions 2) external
restrictions and 3) subjective restrictions. The first
category, resource or input restrictions determine the
availability of land, labor and capital for the production,
management, storage and marketing activities on the farms.
External restrictions are normally beyond the control of the
farm operator, and will include the level of government tobacco
or peanut allotments, the amount of credit lenders may extend,
and any taxes imposed by the state and federal governments. The
third class of contraints, subjective restrictions, are imposed
by the operator himself and reflect a farmer's personal
decision on which crops to produce, the size of certain farm
enterprises and the amount of debt a farmer is willing to
carry. These are the important constraints which differentiate
a family farm as defined here from the larger than family farm.
Each model will consider a single twelve month
production/consumption cycle. The objective function for each'
system will be identical in that operators will maximize gross
margin (total revenue variable expense). However, it is
conceivable-that product prices may vary between systems due to
differences in quality, usage and farmer valuation of the
The underlying assumptions in linear programming of
linearity, divisibility, additivity and single-valued
input/output coefficients do not present serious limitations
for the purposes of this study. In general, the three farming
systems will be represented by the following model
Maximize Z = Z C X.
Subject To Z a..X. < b. (i = 1,2,3..,n)
j=1d X -
and X. > 0
Z = Objective Function
C. = value of one unit of X.
X. = number of units of activity j produced
a..= use of resource i per unit of activity j
b. = set of available resources i for'
The first farm model will represent a typical full time,
small family farm, based on a homogenous group of farms that
exhibit similar farming system characteristics in the study
area. (fig.7). This system is defined by area farmers
themselves as the traditional pattern of agricultural
production and consumption in the region. A diverse mixture of
crops and livestock characterizes this system where peanuts
and/or tobacco and hogs represent a major source of cash
receipts. Corn, vegetables, pasture grasses, cattle and
poultry are typically utilized within the farm. One of the
main advantages of diversification is that a farmer can feel
confident that at least some of his enterprises will remain
profitable enough to maintain the economic viability of the
Figure 7: Product and Labor Flows, Full-Time, Small Farm, Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida.
. WATER -
farm in any one year. This system has existed for more than
half a century in the study area, although the various
components have undergone some alteration and have increased in
technical efficiency via the adoption of some technology over
The second farm model (fig. 8) represents a small farm
system that has evolved from the previous traditional full time
small farm (fig. 7) into a part-time small farm. This
evolutionary process is probably a response to both competitive
"push" and luring "pull" factors discussed earlier. The small
farmers of figure 8 are often forced to work off-farm to
maintain an adequate family income and cash flow. The
necessity to feed, house, cloth and educate members of the
family requires that farmers and/or their spouses and children
seek dependable sources of secured income. These essential
demands for one reason or another cannot be met by the farm
itself, and force many changes onto the farm system. Decisions
must be made to reallocate scarce resources such as labor and
management time, often leading to major reorganization and
focus of enterprises within the farm. It should be noted that
these farms are not considered "hobby" farms, "weekend" farms,
or ranchettes. Most of the farm families have a long history
of farming and maintain extensive kinship networks in the area.
Profit is still a strong incentive for production and
successive farm losses can force them out of farming
altogether. As figure 8 illustrates, these part-time family
farms follow many traditional farming activities, but on a
reduced scale or with less diversification.
Figure 8: Product and Labor Flows, Part-Time Small Farm, Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida.
r T- P -I
,TOBACCO i PEANUTS
. -I.- .j
The third model in this analysis will be of a large farm
representative of those found in Suwannee, Columbia county
area. This model will represent a homogenous group of farms
that are defined by the farmers themselves as a typical large
farm. Figure 9 shows that these farms are characterized by
fewer enterprises and large acreages of specialized crops.
These farms employ high technology/
in both the labor and land augmenting categories to insure high
yields of high quality product. Farming is a full time
occupation for these farmers and because they produce large
volumes of output they have greater marketing and financing
3. Linear Programming as a Diagnostic Tool:
Once the descriptive models of the three systems have been
completed and represent as accurately as possible the "real
world", the hypotheses will be tested. The procedure for
determining whether or not small farmers are prevented from
adopting high technology because of their constraints is quite
simple once the descriptive models have been completed. In
essence, each of the small farm systems will be allowed to
choose between their present technology or the higher
technology used on large farms, given their present (small
farm) constraints. This will be accomplished by creating two
2/ Following Barkley's definition of high technology being
"high" when all effective opportunities to substitute capital
for labor have been utilized.(Barkley,p.309)
Figure 9: Product and Labor Flows, Full-Time Large Farm, Suwannee and Columbia Counties, Florida.
L_ .. .. J
separate merged activity models. The first merged activity
model will be created by combining the activities from the
small full time and large full time descriptive models into one
matrix. The constraints and objective functions for this
merged model will be those used in the small, full-time farm
descriptive model. Diagrammatically, the process will be as
Step 1: Build Descriptive Linear Programming Farm Models
__Large Farm Activities Small Farm Activities
Large Farm Small Farm
Constraints (Model 3) Constraints (Hodel 1)
Create Merged Activity Model
Large Farm Activities/Small Farm Activities
Constraints (Merged Activity Model I)
This merged model will simulate the availability of high
technology to the small farmer, and allow him to choose the
activities that will maximize his objective function given his
small farmer constraints. As a test of the hypothesis, if the
optimized merged activity model fails to include large farm
(high technology) activities, the hypothesis will not be
rejected. It can then be inferred that the constraints of
small farms prevent them from adopting high technology.
The second merged activity model will be similar in all
aspects to the first except that the activities and constraints
for the small, part-time farm model will be utilized in place
of the small, full-time farm model. The large farm activities
will remain the same as in the first merged model, as will the
hypothesis testing procedure.
As well as testing the hypothesis, the merged activity
analysis can provide insight into reasons why small farms do
not adopt high technology as part of their production strategy.
Once the constraints of small farmers are adequately defined,
recommendations pertaining to the necessary characteristics of
new tehcnology for small farms can be made. Any future
research that is directed at the problems of the small farmers
can use the results of this analysis to help determine the
applicability of tentative solutions.
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