An economic study of small farms in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, 1940

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute


There are great variations in returns to different farms for a given year, due to differences in (1) size of business, (2) labor efficiency, (3) rates of production, and (4) balance of the farm business. The dominant factor is size of business, since it exerts influence on each of the other factors.

The problem of the small farm has been much discussed, but little studied. The problem becomes more and more pronounced as each generation passes on and leaves smaller estates to be divided among descendents.

Small farms have usually been studied in comparisons with large farms, seldom being given attention as separate problems. Previous studies have shown that small farms are less efficient users of labor and capital than large farms. The small farm has difficulty in furnishing productive work for the labor force throughout the year. The small farm cannot afford as much equipment as a large farm, and has difficulty in using efficiently that equipment which it can afford. With its equipment inferior to that of the large farm the small farm is handicapped in the struggle to keep rates of production up and costs of production down.

The small farm cannot diversify its sources of income to the extent that a large farm can, because it must specialize in a small number of enterprises in order to be at all efficient in any. There is a limit to the receipts that a small farm can make, just as there is a limit to the receipts that can be had from a single cow, from a flock of 10 hens, or an acre of tobacco.

The need for a study of small farms was given consideration in 1940, when graduate students in agricultural economics at V.P.I. took records of the 1940 farm businesses on 300 farms scattered throughout Pittsylvania County. The records used for this study gave itemized lists of all receipts and expenses, crop and livestock production and sales, inventories of property on hand at the end of the year, other sources of income, and other information necessary to make an analysis of each farm business.

In the tobacco section, the tobacco acreage is a good indicator of the size of the farm business. A study of the farms in the Banister River Drainage Basin of Pittsylvania County showed an average of 7.3 acres of tobacco per farm, and a range of 1.0 to 45.0 acres of tobacco. 1/ For the purposes of this study a small farm is defined as one that has 5.0 acres of tobacco or less. An average of 2.9 acres of tobacco was grown by the farm included in this study, with a range of 0.1 to 5.0 acres of tobacco.

This study covers only the year 1940. Relationships that held true for that year may or may not be valid for subsequent years due to changes in economic conditions. The purpose of this study is to describe the 300 small farms and to show the effect of factors that affect the returns to a farm business.