Economies of Scale: Small is BeautifulRuth referred to studies showing that per acre, small-scale farming is much more productive in the long-run; after an average of 10 years, large-scale intensive agriculture is no longer efficient.
The World Bank says so:
The assumption that large-scale mechanized agriculture is more productive and efficient than small family farms is influencing agricultural development policy around the world. From China to Ethiopia, developing countries are moving toward corporate farming as a way to boost production and jump-start agricultural development.
But the basis of their strategy, the assumption that bigger farms are better farms, is one of the most enduring myths in global development.
Bigger may be better when it comes to making cars or tennis shoes. But in agriculture, the size of a farm is rarely a direct corollary to its productivity or efficiency.
In fact, World Bank researchers conclude that “the literature contains no single example of economies of scale arising for farm sizes exceeding what one family with a medium tractor could comfortably manage.” (1)
If small-scale farmers have sufficient access to land, water, credit and equipment, the productivity per hectare and per unit of energy use is higher than that of large intensive farming systems - in general smallholder production requires fewer external inputs and only results in minor damages to the environment. Small farms can also better adapt and are more flexible to the requirements and changes of their location. As small-scale farming requires more workers per hectare, it enables people in the countryside to make a living (see also food sovereignty).
Industrial Agriculture and Small-scale Farming
The key to alleviating world hunger, poverty and combating climate change may lie in fresh, small-scale approaches to agriculture, according to a report from the Worldwatch Institute.
World hunger best cured by small-scale agriculture: report | Environment | guardian.co.uk
And this is supported by the UN:
Small-scale sustainable agriculture key to global food security
According to the United Nations’ World Economic and Social Survey 2011, a transformation from the predominant large-scale and intensive systems of agriculture towards small-scale sustainable agriculture is urgently needed.Small-scale sustainable agriculture key to global food security
Besides, there are many advantages to small-scale farming: Small scale agriculture - Appropedia: The sustainability wiki
Here's a useful resource: Small farms
Zero Carbon FarmingWith reference to their recent win to build summer accommodation at the farm, Ruth said that "sitting on a tractor for 20 minutes is actually more sustainable in terms of carbon/fuel use than driving for four miles to the farm".
There is the question: Is Zero-Carbon Farming Even Possible? : TreeHugger
And yet in the Outback of Australia this is being tried: Zero Carbon Farm home page
Whilst the Soil Association thinks it's possible: Seminars with Iain Tolhurst: Towards a Carbon Zero Farm
And there are very practical steps suggested: Zero Carbon Britain 2030 plan for land and farming | Changing more than lightbulbs
Profitable business in a changing climate: The world is changing. Government has tasked farmers and land managers with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy and input prices are going up, and food and energy security is hitting the headlines… Farming Futures
The conclusion is, therefore, that carbon/fossil fuels should be used 'intelligently' in farming.
See: F3 (Fossil Fuel Free) Farming Project Launch | Earth Centre
Futures Forum: VGS AGM: Bicton College
VegetarianismRuth also questioned the extent to which a vegetarian diet is 'good for the environment'.
A staple of a vegetarian diet is soya.
But there are concerns that demand for soya market is destroying rainforests:
Logged area in the Amazon rainforest to clear land for soya plantations. The lone Brazilian nut tree belongs to the Castanheira species which is protected in Brazil since 1994. Greenpeace document a number of geographical locations in the Amazon, looking at the impacts of deforestation on various aspects of forest life. They look at people, natural wildlife and the landscape which has drastically altered as huge areas are cleared to meet agricultural demand. Soya plantations are the leading cause of deforestation in the region.
The Lone Brazilian nut tree | Greenpeace International; UK Food Group: Soya, Amazon destruction and climate change; Soya report highlights causes of deforestation - WWF UK - Soya Report, Deforestation, Cerrado, Brazil
However, apparently it's not quite so simple, because a staple of a cow's diet is also soya:
Fast-Food Forest Destruction | Greenpeace International
A huge amount of soy is used as animal feed, in America about 95% of all non-exported soy protein ends up as livestock feed. Of this, 77% to 95% is irretrievably lost in the process of animal metabolism. So eating farmed animals is contributing even more to rainforest destruction. If people ate soy directly themselves, instead of feeding it to animals, a very much smaller area of land would have to be cultivated. Soya causes environmental damage; Silent Invasion: the hidden use of GM crops in livestock feed
The nutritional content of the soya bean is so profound that just 10 hectares – an area the size of five football pitches – can feed 61 people. The same area of land devoted to raising animals for meat would support just two people (Tickell, 1991).
Because of this, vast tracts of land in many parts of the world have been turned over to soya production – not to feed people but as a fodder for farmed animals. It has become an environmental and human catastrophe (UN/FAO, 2006).
The United States was traditionally the world’s largest grower, accounting for 75 per cent of soya production – enough to feed almost two billion people. But almost the entire crop is fed to farmed animals So great is the demand of these animals that still more soya is imported from developing countries such as India and Brazil (Pimentel and Pimentel, 1982). It is no accident that the biggest exporters of animal fodder such as soya are the very countries which have massive landlessness and whose children most frequently die from starvation (Smulders, 1991).
What lies of the heart of this extraordinary wastefulness is the inherent inefficiency of livestock production as a means of providing food. It can take as much as 17kg of high-quality vegetable protein to produce just 1kg of meat protein. It is for this reason the 70 per cent of all agricultural land across the world is now required to feed livestock (UN/FAO, 2006).
Increasingly it is Brazil that is becoming the world’s biggest soya exporter and the trade is largely controlled by three huge multinational corporations. Huge tracts of Amazon rainforest are now being cleared specifically for soya (Greenpeace, 2006). In fact, 30 per cent of all cleared rainforest land is now used to grow soya and most of the remainder is used to graze cattle. Soya production is now intimately linked to loss of biodiversity across the globe (UN/FAO, 2006).
Furthermore, as Ruth said: if we are to consume dairy products but not eat meat (ie, vegetarian rather than vegan), then what happens to the male calves?
Baby calves shot on C4 documentary: People have no right to complain if they don't inform themselves about food | Mail Online
Dear dairy | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
The mystery of the missing dairy calves | From Animal To Meat
The 'solution', it appears, is that:
If you're going to eat meat, then eat home-reared meat raised on home-grown fodder:
Riverwood Farm producing Quality meat and livestock for the South West
Smallicombe, award winning farm accommodation - bed and breakfast and 4 star self catering cottages. Honiton, Devon accommodation near the Jurassic coast
If you're not going to eat meat, then eat home-grown veg:
Fresh and Green