When it comes to the environmental impact, people's perception is that big farming operations are the bad guys. Certainly the general public believes that small farms create fewer problems.

Still, it's the larger operations with higher investments in their production systems, that also have the capital and production numbers– whether crops or animals– to make technology applications pay.

Farming operations with more than $250,000 gross sales are more likely to adopt best management practices compared to smaller farms, said Dan Bernardo, Kansas State University agricultural economist.

"Much has been written about the pros and cons of various sizes of farming operations," says Bernardo. "These findings have important implications in developing future policies aimed at reducing the impact of agriculture on surface water quality."

Drawing information from a survey to determine the use of best management practices (BMP), the study found that larger farms cover more acres under environmental recommendations.

In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that production agriculture is a potential contributor to the degradation of surface-water resources.

"In Kansas, two contaminants which have been frequently identified in lakes and rivers are nitrates and agricultural pesticides," says Bernardo.

Researchers studied two sets of BMPs calculated on two crops – sorghum and corn – to determine the percentage of large farms taking advantage of profits from BMPs. Looking at adoption rates for nitrogen and atrazine BMPs, the data indicated that 80 percent of farms are using at least one of five selected BMPs, with 40 percent practicing two BMPs.

"In the case of corn production, a significant increase in adoption rate of six of 10 BMPs occurred in moving from smaller to larger farm types," Bernardo notes, "while the adoption rate of five of 10 BMPs by sorghum producers was shown to increase by farm types."

After developing BMPs over the past several years, an educational push encouraged voluntary adoption of the practices. Educational efforts have been less effective in reaching small farms, perhaps due to the high initial cost of getting some of the BMP programs started.

"[Adopting] BMPs often equates to higher profits," he says. "Large farms tend to be impacted to a greater degree."

Kansas State University news release.