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Flint on Crops: How Large or Small Is a “Farm”? – Commentary

Ernst Undesser
By Ernie Flint, Mississippi State University Agronomist November 6, 2017

Flint on Crops: How Large or Small Is a “Farm”? – Commentary

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

The concept of scale is something that seems to come up in almost every part of our lives, and I suppose this has always been true. However, I think we all realize that that this is only another way our minds have of categorizing “things” we deal with as we go through whatever activities we are involved with from one day to the next.

As I have worked with people through the years, both before and after joining the Extension Service I have been a little amazed at how people regard the differences among the kinds and sizes of farming operations. And in referring to farming operations, I mean all kinds, including the mega-farms that grow thousands of acres of the major crops like corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, wheat, peanuts, and many other crops that are not planted in this region.

Along with these “big” farms are the smaller ones that may include less than a thousand acres of some of the same crops as the larger ones. Then come the small farms that only cover a few hundred, or less than a hundred acres that are commonly operated by people who actually get most of their income from somewhere else but cling to the farm as a way of returning to their roots.

Now we come to the very small farms that in a sense are a new concept in which some very different kinds of people have returned to the land after burning out at a professional career.

These folks are serious farmers even though they are often educated in things totally unrelated to agriculture. I recently met a psychologist who, along with his wife and two kids, had move from a northern city to Mississippi to grow organic food for restaurants.

I have worked with folks who have advanced degrees in agriculture who are now growing vegetables for gourmet restaurants, producing organic beef and poultry, and living off the land themselves. To be perfectly honest, I believed at one time that these smaller farms were headed down a dead-end street and that their mission was futile at best, but now I am beginning to think that they may have something going that we need to watch a little closer.

When I think about all of this I can’t help remembering the way I grew up on a small farm in Attala County milking cows, hoeing cotton and corn, growing vegetables and basically living off the land with my parents and my grandparents in the same house. I thought at the time that it was difficult I guess, but now as I reflect on it I can see that I had a great opportunity to have a better perspective about what is going on today.

As I have told groups of both large and small farmers, we can’t feed the population we have on Earth today with the methods of small scale agriculture, but these folks definitely have a place in the broad scheme of things. The technologies we have developed during my lifetime are astonishing and we need them because with only one percent of our population actually farming today we have to be super-efficient.

However, the time may come when many more people will return to the land and agriculture may assume its rightful place as the foundation of civilization. Somehow I always thought it would happen since I have devoted most of my life to it.

Now the idea of scale seems less and less important. The thought that a community may actually approach self-sufficiency in the production of the “food, clothing, and shelter” we have been told are the necessities of life is becoming more of a possibility than it did only a decade or two ago. In truth it seems to be happening right before our eyes.

Question is whether it will be ready when it is needed to sustain us?  In truth, I doubt that it will, but whatever it is it will be much better than nothing. It is and will be a beginning.

Thanks for your time.

Ernst Undesser
By Ernie Flint, Mississippi State University Agronomist November 6, 2017