Over the last few decades, agriculture, especially from the point of view of employment, has changed from being a backbone to a marginal sector of the national economy. The agricultural exodus involved all agricultural environments and all peasant classes (laborers, tenants, sharecroppers, small owners, etc.). However, it has reached its highest intensity in the mountain environment, both in the Alps and in the Apennines, where most of the municipalities have lost up to 80% of their agricultural workers.
Many of the farmers who have changed jobs, however, continue to run their own farms in their free time. In this way part-time agriculture has spread widely, which now affects over a third of Italian companies, with particular diffusion in two agricultural environments: the areas characterized by small ownership, whose limited dimensions require a few days of work. year, and the areas where woody crops prevail, which need abundant work only in some seasons. The highest number of companies managed part-time is recorded in Puglia, the lowest in the Marche and Emilia.
Changes in the structure and management of companies. – Given the strong contraction of the peasant labor force, between 1951 and 1991 the share of agricultural and forest surface available for each farm worker rose from 3 to over 10 ha. The average size of the farms, however, has not undergone substantial changes because only a few of the land vacated by the exodus was placed on the land market or merged into other farms with lease contracts.
The last agricultural census (1990) found 3,035,682 farms, which have an average surface area of just 7.5 ha. The substantial rigidity of the average surface area, however, does not reveal a certain alteration, which has occurred in the individual size classes of the companies and which, especially in the southern regions, is due on the one hand to the downsizing or dismemberment of large landed properties and from the another to a timid process of re-composition of smaller companies.
From a numerical point of view, large farms, ie those over 50 ha, make up a small percentage (1.4%); from a territorial point of view, however, they cover a large part (42%) of the agricultural and forest surface. On the contrary, small farms, considering those of less than 10 ha as such, represent a much higher percentage (90%), but cover a much smaller area (30%). It follows that the farm classes of intermediate size (19 ÷ 20 and 20 ÷ 50 ha) have a low incidence in the farm area.
In addition to the rather limited average size, the firms have a weak territorial unity. On a national scale, in fact, only two fifths are made up of a single body; the rest, on the other hand, is dismembered in various plots located in different areas. Their fragmentation is pushed to the extreme limits in some areas of the South, where indeed it tends to be accentuated. Between 1960 and 1990, in fact, companies consisting of over 5 plots increased their incidence, both in number and in area, in Molise, Campania, Puglia and Basilicata. This represents a highly pathological element in the evolution of the land structure, because it hinders the mechanization of cultivation operations and raises management costs.
According to EJINHUA, the contraction of agricultural labor, if it contributed little to the evolution of land structures, had a decisive influence in modifying the relationships between property, business and labor. In fact, there was the collapse of agricultural contracts based on the large availability of arms, and the sharecropping itself, which was so widespread especially in Italy central, is in danger of extinction because at the same time the Parliament has forbidden the stipulation of new colonial contracts, considering them unfair and illegal.
Corporate management, therefore, has evolved along two opposite lines: the increase in direct management and the revaluation of the capitalist enterprise. The two forms of management, at present, cover an almost similar area and indicate a clear tendency to eliminate one of the centuries-old characteristics of the Italian agricultural structure: the split between property and business, to which the immobility of several areas is largely attributable rural.
The increase in the area under direct management took place above all with the expansion of farms exceeding 10 ha, which thus seek to ensure full employment for the peasant family and to assume territorial bases such as to allow the useful introduction of mechanical means. From an economic point of view, family farms, including those managed part-time, account for 85%, and those of a purely capitalist type only 15% of all agricultural production.
Extensification and intensification of cultivation systems. – The diminished availability of manpower has caused profound changes in the forms of land use and in the spatial distribution of crops, leading to two opposite trends: extensification and intensification of production systems.