IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

New perspectives on farm size and productivity


  • Rada, Nicholas E.
  • Fuglie, Keith O.


The farm size and productivity debate has been limited by the focus on land or labor productivity, generally showing respective productivity advantages to smaller or larger sized farms. Our purpose is to provide new perspectives on the debate by bringing together evidence from a set of novel case studies in both rich and poor countries. Common to them are the adoption of total factor productivity (TFP) as the comparative performance measure, and the reliance on panels of farm micro data. The present article presents a synthesis of findings from five case studies in (i) Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda; (ii) Bangladesh; (iii) Brazil; (iv) Australia; and (v) the United States. The preponderance of evidence from these studies suggests that there is no single economically optimal agrarian structure; rather, it appears to evolve with the stage of economic development. Certain farm sizes face relative productivity advantages, such as small farms in Africa. But with economic and market growth, that smallholder advantage will likely attenuate, moving toward constant and eventually increasing returns to size. Yet, importantly, small farms may be quite dynamic, and need not be a drag on agricultural growth until perhaps well into the development process.

Suggested Citation

  • Rada, Nicholas E. & Fuglie, Keith O., 2019. "New perspectives on farm size and productivity," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 147-152.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:84:y:2019:i:c:p:147-152
    DOI: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2018.03.015

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Tasso Adamopoulos & Diego Restuccia, 2014. "The Size Distribution of Farms and International Productivity Differences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(6), pages 1667-1697, June.
    2. Barrett, Christopher B., 1996. "On price risk and the inverse farm size-productivity relationship," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 193-215, December.
    3. Michael R. Carter & Keith D. Wiebe, 1990. "Access to Capital and Its Impact on Agrarian Structure and Productivity in Kenya," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 72(5), pages 1146-1150.
    4. Dietrich Vollrath, 2007. "Land Distribution and International Agricultural Productivity," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 89(1), pages 202-216.
    5. Kislev, Yoav & Peterson, Willis, 1982. "Prices, Technology, and Farm Size," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(3), pages 578-595, June.
    6. Heath Henderson & Alan G. Isaac, 2017. "Modern Value Chains and the Organization of Agrarian Production," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 99(2), pages 379-400.
    7. Helfand, Steven M. & Levine, Edward S., 2004. "Farm size and the determinants of productive efficiency in the Brazilian Center-West," Agricultural Economics, Blackwell, vol. 31(2-3), pages 241-249, December.
    8. Barrett, Christopher B. & Bellemare, Marc F. & Hou, Janet Y., 2010. "Reconsidering Conventional Explanations of the Inverse Productivity-Size Relationship," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 88-97, January.
    9. Wang, Xiaobing & Yamauchi, Futoshi & Otsuka, Keijiro & Huang, Jikun, 2016. "Wage Growth, Landholding, and Mechanization in Chinese Agriculture," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 30-45.
    10. Eswaran, Mukesh & Kotwal, Ashok, 1986. "Access to Capital and Agrarian Production Organisation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 96(382), pages 482-498, June.
    11. Klaus Deininger & Songqing Jin & Yanyan Liu & Sudhir K. Singh, 2018. "Can Labor-Market Imperfections Explain Changes in the Inverse Farm Size–Productivity Relationship? Longitudinal Evidence from Rural India," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 94(2), pages 239-258.
    12. Deininger, Klaus & Byerlee, Derek, 2012. "The Rise of Large Farms in Land Abundant Countries: Do They Have a Future?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 701-714.
    13. Daniel Ayalew Ali & Klaus Deininger, 2015. "Is There a Farm Size–Productivity Relationship in African Agriculture? Evidence from Rwanda," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 91(2), pages 317-343.
    14. MacDonald, James M. & Korb, Penni & Hoppe, Robert A., 2013. "Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming," Economic Research Report 262221, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    15. Gourlay,Sydney & Kilic,Talip & Lobell,David & Gourlay,Sydney & Kilic,Talip & Lobell,David, 2017. "Could the debate be over ? errors in farmer-reported production and their implications for the inverse scale-productivity relationship in Uganda," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8192, The World Bank.
    16. Deininger, Klaus, 1999. "Making negotiated land reform work : initial experience from Brazil, Colombia, and South Africa," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2040, The World Bank.
    17. Binswanger, Hans P. & Deininger, Klaus & Feder, Gershon, 1995. "Power, distortions, revolt and reform in agricultural land relations," Handbook of Development Economics, in: Hollis Chenery & T.N. Srinivasan (ed.),Handbook of Development Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 42, pages 2659-2772, Elsevier.
    18. Schimmelpfennig, David, 2016. "Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture," Economic Research Report 249773, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    19. Peterson, Willis & Kislev, Yoav, 1986. "The Cotton Harvester in Retrospect: Labor Displacement or Replacement?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(1), pages 199-216, March.
    20. T.S. Jayne & Jordan Chamberlin & Lulama Traub & Nicholas Sitko & Milu Muyanga & Felix K. Yeboah & Ward Anseeuw & Antony Chapoto & Ayala Wineman & Chewe Nkonde & Richard Kachule, 2016. "Africa's changing farm size distribution patterns: the rise of medium-scale farms," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 47(S1), pages 197-214, November.
    21. Deininger, Klaus, 1999. "Making Negotiated Land Reform Work: Initial Experience from Colombia, Brazil and South Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 651-672, April.
    22. Yamauchi, Futoshi, 2016. "Rising real wages, mechanization and growing advantage of large farms: Evidence from Indonesia," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 62-69.
    23. Desiere, Sam & Jolliffe, Dean, 2018. "Land productivity and plot size: Is measurement error driving the inverse relationship?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 84-98.
    24. Collier, Paul & Dercon, Stefan, 2014. "African Agriculture in 50Years: Smallholders in a Rapidly Changing World?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 92-101.
    25. Heltberg, Rasmus, 1998. "Rural market imperfections and the farm size-- productivity relationship: Evidence from Pakistan," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 26(10), pages 1807-1826, October.
    26. Deininger, Klaus & Savastano, Sara & Xia, Fang, 2017. "Smallholders’ land access in Sub-Saharan Africa: A new landscape?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 78-92.
    27. Feder, Gershon, 1985. "The relation between farm size and farm productivity : The role of family labor, supervision and credit constraints," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2-3), pages 297-313, August.
    28. Klaus Deininger & Songqing Jin & Yanyan Liu & Sudhir K Singh, 2016. "Can Labor Market Imperfections Explain Changes in the Inverse Farm Size–Productivity Relationship? Longitudinal Evidence from Rural India," Working Papers id:10987, eSocialSciences.
    29. Rada, Nicholas & Wang, Chenggang & Qin, Lijian, 2015. "Subsidy or market reform? Rethinking China’s farm consolidation strategy," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 93-103.
    30. Carletto,Calogero & Gourlay,Sydney & Winters,Paul Conal & Carletto,Calogero & Gourlay,Sydney & Winters,Paul Conal, 2013. "From guesstimates to GPStimates : land area measurement and implications for agricultural analysis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6550, The World Bank.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Ayerst, Stephen & Brandt, Loren & Restuccia, Diego, 2020. "Market constraints, misallocation, and productivity in Vietnam agriculture," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 94(C).
    2. Eric C. Edwards & Martin Fiszbein & Gary D. Libecap, 2020. "Colonial Origins, Property Rights, and the Organization of Agricultural Production: the US Midwest and Argentine Pampas Compared," NBER Working Papers 27750, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Tasso Adamopoulos & Loren Brandt & Jessica Leight & Diego Restuccia, 2017. "Misallocation, Selection and Productivity: A Quantitative Analysis with Panel Data from China," Working Papers tecipa-593, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    4. Gourlay, Sydney & Kilic, Talip & Lobell, David B., 2019. "A new spin on an old debate: Errors in farmer-reported production and their implications for inverse scale - Productivity relationship in Uganda," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(C).
    5. Omotilewa, Oluwatoba J. & Jayne, Thomas S. & Muyanga, Milu & Aromolaranc, Adebayo & Liverpool-Tasieb, Lenis Saweda O. & Awokuseb, Titus, 2020. "A revisit of farm size and productivity: Empirical evidence from a wide range of farm sizes in Nigeria," 2020 Annual Meeting, July 26-28, Kansas City, Missouri 304210, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    6. Mensah, Edouard R. & Kostandini, Genti, 2020. "The inverse farm size-productivity relationship under land size mis-measurement and in the presence of weather and price risks: Panel data evidence from Uganda," 2020 Annual Meeting, July 26-28, Kansas City, Missouri 304477, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    7. Thanh Ngo & Hung V. Vu & Huong Ho & Thuy T. T. Dao & Hai T. H. Nguyen, 2019. "Performance of Fish Farms in Vietnam–Does Financial Access Help Improve Their Cost Efficiency?," International Journal of Financial Studies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(3), pages 1-10, August.
    8. Amadu, Festus O. & McNamara, Paul E. & Miller, Daniel C., 2020. "Yield effects of climate-smart agriculture aid investment in southern Malawi," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 92(C).

    More about this item


    Agrarian structure; Agriculture; Crop yields; Farm size; Land productivity; Total factor productivity (TFP);

    JEL classification:

    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • Q12 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Micro Analysis of Farm Firms, Farm Households, and Farm Input Markets
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:84:y:2019:i:c:p:147-152. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Haili He). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.