A Matter of Scale: Enterprise Scale, Sustainability, and Government Policy
|John Janmaat. Assistant Professor, Department of Economics Acadia University Wolfville, Nova Scotia B4P 2R6, Canada 1-902-542-0522 email@example.com|
|Primary industries, such as agriculture and fishing, are the foundation of any economy. Foundations are the critical, though not always visible, parts of any 'structure.' With physical structures, technology has allowed larger, more intricate structures to balance on seemingly small foundations. However, in both construction and the economy generally, sustainability depends on the foundation, however small, being strong. |
Primary industries have represented a declining share of economic output and employment since the dawn of civilization. In agriculture, by substituting energy, machines, and knowledge for land and labour, human economies have been able to feed an ever increasing population on a fixed land base, using less and less labour. This progression has enabled the modern economy, where supplying basic needs takes such a small share of national income, to develop. However, is an economy that relies on large, highly mechanized business enterprises to produce much of its food, sustainable? Is the large farm, integrated into global product and financial markets, better at protecting the agroecosystem it relies on than the small 'family' farm? Which scale of farm is likely to continue best practices while weathering the various storms all agriculture is subject to? The common desire to be closer to the land and traditional ways leads many to answer that smaller is better. However, answers to these questions are not obvious. What is obvious is that many government policies have favoured larger enterprises. The lion's share of government support for agriculture goes to the largest farms. Governments approach to research has shifted in favour of products that can be sold, rather than knowledge that can be shared, also benefiting large enterprises. Given the key role policy plays in shaping agriculture, a critical question is how to shift the policy bias from scale to sustainability.