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When it comes to adopting sustainable farming practices, it appears that larger acreage growers are leading the way. In a 2022 McKinsey & Company survey of 1,300 U.S. row-crop farmers, growers planting more than 5,000 acres had greater adoption of sustainable farming practices.
These practices included no-till, cover crops, reduced tillage, variable-rate fertilization, controlled release/stabilized fertilizer, riparian buffers, stormwater control and biological products.
In this survey, large-acreage farms were defined as having over 5,000 acres. Medium-sized farms ranged from 2,000-5,000 acres, while small-acreage farms had less than 2,000 cropped acres.
The McKinsey survey data shows a 61% no-till adoption rate among large acreage and medium-sized farms. This compares with a 58% no-till adoption rate among smaller-acreage farms. With minimum tillage, the adoption rate was 70% for larger-sized farms, 62% for medium-sized farms and 57% among low-acreage farms.
While no-till has numerous time and cost-saving benefits, veteran no-tillers have told me large-scale farmers in their areas have been slow to adopt no-till. They say growers farming with a huge acreage and investment can’t afford to make major mistakes when starting no-till on a large number of rented acres.
The data also showed operators of small- and large-acreage farms tend to pursue different paths when it comes to farm profitability. Over the next few years, one-third of growers farming more than 5,000 acres expect to invest sizable dollars in the latest technology and innovative equipment such as automation, robotics and electrification of farm machinery.