The Production Function, Crop Diversity, and the Debate Between Conventional and Sustainable Agriculture

Thomas A. Lyson, Rick Welsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Abstract Organizational assumptions embedded in the production function of neoclassical economics have served to structure production agriculture in the United States for the past 100 years. The narrow focus of the production function on the inputs of land, labor, capital, and management and the use of on‐farm profitability as the primary definition of sustainability have come under attack from sustainable agriculturalists, who argue that the social and environmental consequences of production are as important as the economic outcomes. Using diversity of crops harvested as an indicator of sustainability, the production function is operationalized to inform the debate between the conventional, neoclassical model of production and the alternative, sustainable model. Census of agriculture data from 1978, 1982, and 1987 are used in both cross‐sectional and temporal models. Results show that increases in expenditures for equipment and machinery, prevalence of corporate farms, higher rates of tenancy, and the prevalence of large farms are associated with lower levels of diversity at the county level. Conversely, higher levels of diversity are found in counties with greater farm labor expenses, where there are more medium‐size farms, and where farmers are more likely to farm full‐time. 1993 Rural Sociological Society

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-439
Number of pages16
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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