For starters, larger farms are efficient. They can afford the latest technology and equipment, allowing them to do more with less. If you were to take a look at agricultural productivity in America, you would see a clear link between larger farms and greater efficiencies. When a new combine costs nearly $500,000, clearly the harvesting costs are much less when you are combining 5,000 acres versus only 500 acres. Large farms are at a great advantage.    

Larger farms give us cheap food. In the United States, our consumers spend between 5 and 10 percent of their income on food, depending on which source you quote for the statistic.

In countries such as Jordan, Indonesia and Azerbaijan, people spend 40 and even 50 percent of their income on food. Think how our lives would change if we suddenly had to spend that much more of our income on food.  No more vacations, new cars, college funds or large houses. All of those items would be gone for most of us. 

Large farms can afford the latest environmental practices. Sprayers with GPS systems that target only those specific areas infested with weeds or destructive insects greatly minimize the amount of herbicides or pesticides used. These sophisticated machines can target an area down to one square foot.  Fewer herbicides mean less waste and less environmental contamination. 

On larger dairy farms it is now common to see dairy lagoons that capture waste from the cows and methane digesters that recycle that waste and convert it back into energy.

Last summer I visited a dairy farm in Pittsylvania County that creates excess energy and sells it back to the local power company. The farm not only powers its own operation, but if the need ever arose, the farm could power the entire town of Chatham.

You get the idea: We need large farms to feed the world’s seven billion people. And more than 96 percent of those people live in countries outside the United States of America. What a tremendous opportunity going forward for our American producers. But in addition to our larger farming operations, we also rely heavily on smaller farms, too. They provide many tangible benefits not always measured in dollars. 

Small farms are at the heart of rural America and small towns scattered across this great nation. They are also behind the successful “Buy Fresh — Buy Local” food movement. The phenomenon has just exploded in the past several years with amazing results.

Farmers’ Markets in Virginia have grown from 88 markets in 2006 to 200 this year. More and more farms are adding pick-your-own elements to their operations. Roadside stands are no longer relegated to back roads and rural areas; they crop up even on busy street corners.

And CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions) are now so popular that many of them sell out for the year before the official end of winter.

Consumers tell us they see several advantage of buying local products. They get the farmer with their food. They can look him or her in the eye, establish a bond, ask questions about his growing practices and sometimes even influence his choice of products.

Consumers also appreciate the fact their food doesn’t travel long distances to get to their plates. Often farmers pick it at 6 a.m. and start selling it by 8 a.m. Fresher products not only taste better, but they are more nutritious because they do not lose vitamins or minerals sitting on a side track or traveling across the country.

Generally, small farms are the ones that add so much to our lives through agri-tourism. With only two percent of the U.S. population being engaged in production agriculture, most of the other 98 percent no longer have a direct connection to a farm. But they can experience farm life first-hand when they visit a farm that is open to the public.

Along with their berries, tomatoes, corn or Christmas trees, the consumer gets something else, a day on the farm.