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Large Farms vs. Small Farms: Grain Production in Northwestern Shandong (大农场和小农户:鲁西北地区的粮食生产)

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The pattern of grain production in northwestern Shandong today is a combination of machinery and labor. The mechanization of plowing, sowing, and harvesting has freed “principal labor units” (i.e., males in their prime) from agriculture, while the relatively labor-intensive operations of applying fertilizer and agricultural chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) and watering still mainly rely on “auxiliary labor” (i.e., women and the elderly), which remains abundant in the countryside. The principal family laborers of households with small farms can thus pursue off-farm work, while auxiliary family labor, which has a lower opportunity cost, can still do the farming and ensure the output of grain. Large farms on the other hand have no incentive to introduce labor-saving machinery to take over what have been labor-intensive operations as long as cheap auxiliary labor is still plentiful. Thus large farms do not have a higher level of mechanization; however, they do have a totally different managerial logic. Their production is driven by capital, which is invested in acquiring land (through land transfers), hiring wage labor, and pursuing profit. In contrast, production in small farms is driven by the family’s labor, pursuing the best division of work between principal and auxiliary family labor and the maximum output per unit of land. The land scarce–labor abundant reality of China requires that agriculture pursue higher output, larger product value, and higher net returns on each unit of land. It is small farms that best meet these requirements.This article is in English.鲁西北地区的粮食生产呈现出机械和劳动相互结合的模式。耕地、播种和收割环节的高度机械化代替了农业生产中的主劳动力,而相对劳动密集的施肥、打农药和浇水环节,则仍高度依赖农村中依然大量存在的辅助劳动力。对小农户而言,这种模式可以在保证家庭主劳动力外出务工的同时,使用机会成本较低的家庭辅助劳动力实现自家承包地上最大的粮食收入。而对于大农场而言,农村廉价辅助劳动力的存在,使它们并无动力为劳动密集的生产环节引入机械,而是选择使用雇工生产。大农场和小农户的区别,并不在于它们具有更高的机械化程度,而在于它们组织生产的逻辑不同。大农场体现的是资本的逻辑,由资本流转入土地、雇佣劳动力进行生产,追求资本的最大利润。小农户则是围绕家庭劳动的生产,追求主、辅劳动力之间的最佳分工和小块土地的最大产出。中国地少人多的国情要求单位面积土地创造出更大的农产品产出、产值和更高的净收益,是小农户而不是大农场更体现了这种要求。


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