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Scale Economies and Efficiency in U.S. Agriculture: Are Traditional Farms History?


  • Catherine Paul
  • Richard Nehring
  • David Banker
  • Agapi Somwaru


The structural transformation of agriculture in recent decades has raised serious concerns about the future of the family farm. This study examines the economic performance of U.S. farms, to explore the potential of smaller farms to compete with larger entities, and ultimately to survive in this rapidly changing environment. We use deterministic and stochastic frontier methods and survey data to measure and evaluate factors underlying scale economies (SEC) and efficiency (SEF) of corn-belt farms for 1996–2001. Our results suggest that family farms are both scale and technically inefficient. Potential for the exploitation of significant scale and scope economies, and some greater technical efficiency, seem to be driving trends toward increased farm size and dwindling competitiveness of the small family farm. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

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  • Catherine Paul & Richard Nehring & David Banker & Agapi Somwaru, 2004. "Scale Economies and Efficiency in U.S. Agriculture: Are Traditional Farms History?," Journal of Productivity Analysis, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 185-205, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jproda:v:22:y:2004:i:3:p:185-205
    DOI: 10.1007/s11123-004-7573-1

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Imori, Denise & Guilhoto, Joaquim José Martins & Postali, Fernando Antonio Slaibe, 2012. "Production efficiency of family farms and business farms in the Brazilian regions," MPRA Paper 46995, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Qushim, Berdikul & Bhandari, Basu & Gillespie, Jeffrey & Scaglia, Guillermo, 2017. "Grass-Fed Beef Enterprise Efficiency Analysis in the U.S," 2017 Annual Meeting, February 4-7, 2017, Mobile, Alabama 252735, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
    3. Ligia Alba Melo-Becerra & Antonio José Orozco-Gallo, 2015. "Eficiencia técnica de los hogares con producción agropecuaria en Colombia," DOCUMENTOS DE TRABAJO SOBRE ECONOMÍA REGIONAL Y URBANA 013903, BANCO DE LA REPÚBLICA - ECONOMÍA REGIONAL.
    4. Harvey James, 2011. "From the editor," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 28(3), pages 293-295, September.
    5. Badunenko, Oleg & Fritsch, Michael & Stephan, Andreas, 2008. "Allocative efficiency measurement revisited--Do we really need input prices?," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 1093-1109, September.
    6. Dolev, Yuval & Kimhi, Ayal, 2010. "Do family farms really converge to a uniform size? The role of unobserved farm efficiency," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 54(1), March.
    7. Wing Chow, Clement Kong & Fung, Michael Ka Yiu, 2009. "Efficiencies and scope economies of Chinese airports in moving passengers and cargo," Journal of Air Transport Management, Elsevier, vol. 15(6), pages 324-329.
    8. Bishnu Saha & Rakhal Sarker & Verna Mitura, 2014. "Impact of Genetically Engineered Varieties on the Cost Structure of Corn and Soybean Production in Canada," Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie, Canadian Agricultural Economics Society/Societe canadienne d'agroeconomie, vol. 62(2), pages 263-282, June.
    9. Løvold Rødseth, Kenneth, 2017. "Productivity growth in urban freight transport: An index number approach," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 86-95.
    10. Atici, Kazim Baris & Podinovski, Victor V., 2015. "Using data envelopment analysis for the assessment of technical efficiency of units with different specialisations: An application to agriculture," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 72-83.
    11. Pokharel, Krishna P & Featherstone, Allen M, 2016. "A Nonparametric Approach to Estimate Multiproduct and Product-specific Scale and Scope Economies for Agricultural Cooperatives," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 236182, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    12. Kent Olson & Linh Vu, 2009. "Economic efficiency in farm households: trends, explanatory factors, and estimation methods," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 40(5), pages 587-599, September.
    13. Imori, Denise & Guilhoto, Joaquim José Martins & Postali, Fernando Antonio Slaibe, 2012. "Eficiência técnica das agropecuárias familiar e patronal – diferenças regionais no Brasil
      [Technical efficiency of agricultural households and business - regional differences in Brazil]
      ," MPRA Paper 46954, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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