Sustainable Practices Linked to Farm Size in Organic Farming


Researchers found larger farms used fewer agroecological practices and that organic farming on large farms more closely resembled conventional farming

Larger organic farms operate more like conventional farms and use fewer sustainable practices than smaller organic farms, according to a new study that also provides insight into how to increase adoption of sustainable practices.

“We wanted to look at how the practices differ between small-scale organic farms like the ones you see scattered around the Finger Lakes, which may serve the local farmer’s market, and those huge farms that supply organic produce to big box stores,” said Jeffrey Liebert Ph.D. ’22, who studied agroecology at the School of Integrative Plant Science, Soil and Crop Sciences Section, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “I visited numerous large farms where their organic acreage was on one side of the road and their conventional acreage on the other side, and you couldn’t tell the difference.”

Liebert is first author of “Farm Size Affects the Use of Agroecological Practices on Organic Farms in the United States,” published July 21 in Nature Plants.

He and an interdisciplinary group of researchers from Cornell, U.C. Berkeley, and The Nature Conservancy surveyed 542 organic fruit and vegetable farmers about the use of eight agroecological practices – those that improve sustainability by leveraging ecological processes and providing ecosystem services. They also looked at indicators of ‘conventionalization’ in organic farming, such as reduced crop diversity, mechanization and a focus on high volume and wholesale production.

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