The relationship between farm size and efficiency in South African agriculture
van Zyl, Johan
Drawing on international evidence, the authors discuss the sources of economies of scale. Using representative farm-level survey data for South Africa's six major grain producing areas and one irrigation area for the period 1975-90, they: describe the the structure of South African agriculture, detailing the distribution of farm sizes and results from previous studies of farm-size efficiency. They also analyze the evidence on scale efficiency in the former homelands and analyze the relationship between farm size and efficiency in commercial farming and discuss how policy affects that relationship. Clearly policy has a crucial impact on the relationship between farm size and efficiency. The authors find that: a) farms in the former homelands seem to be scale-inefficient, which is unsurprising, given the historical lack of access to support services and infrastructure, policies that discriminate against farmers in the homelands, and the extremely fragmented and limited land-use rights of farmers there; b) there is an inverse relationship between farm size and efficiency in the commercial farming areas for the range of farms analyzed, regardless what method is used. This inverse relationship seems to become stronger and accentuated as policy distortions - which tend to favor large farms over small ones - are removed; and c) large farms tend to use more capital intensive methods of production, while smaller farms are more labor-intensive. And managerial ability seems to be better on larger farms. There is an inverse relationship between farm size and efficiency in South African agriculture despite South Africa's history of policies favoring relatively large mechanized farms. Clearly, efficiency gains could be significant if commercial farms became smaller. To encourage that trend, policies and distortions that favor large farms over small should be removed.
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