Effect of Scale on Biofuel Crops

Scale & sustainability of organic farms growing food and biofuel crops


Corn, soybean, sweet potato ans sweet sorghum grown at different farm scalesThis project examines the sustainability of alternative biofuel crops, grown organically at scales ranging from production with hand tools to conventional tractor-based production. Energy, land, and labor-use efficiency are compared across crops and farm scales. The effect of land, labor, and energy prices on small farm profitability are compared for food and biofuel production at different small farm scales.


  1. Cultivation at a market garden and small farm scaleCalculate land, labor, and energy efficiency of food and biofuel feedstock production on small organic farms representing three production scales. 
  2. Compare sustainability of corn, soybean, sweet sorghum, and sweet potato food and biofuel feedstock crops grown in small farm systems. 
  3. Determine market price thresholds at which feedstock production becomes more profitable than food production for each system. 
  4. Compare resource-use efficiency of research plots to that of working organic farms operating at each of the scales studied.


Food and biofuel varieties of corn, sweet potato, sweet sorghum, and soybean are rotated through organic farming systems representing three scales of agricultural production: 

  1. hand tools only; 
  2. no tools larger than a walk-behind tractor; and 
  3. management conducted primarily with conventional four-wheeled tractors.
Farm scale planting diagram

Treatments are replicated four times in a randomized complete block design. All crops are grown in each system in each of four study years.

Preliminary results are posted at the Energy Farms blog.

Updated 06/18/10

College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems