Sure, population as a whole gives you more distributed results.
I presume you're talking about Lossless Farm. The comparison isn't even close.
- To get a Lossless Farm (at the very end of the farming tech tree), you've had to research 6 techs ahead of it. This is a turn 300+ technology.
- You've had to build the prior farms, which cost you 142, plus the 101 for this.
- If you have +100% to food, you've had to research another 3 techs, minimum
- You'll be hard-pressed to get more than +100% to Raw production. Starbases only provide +10% each (all the rest of the modules provide stat-specific bonuses, not Raw Production ones, and you can't put more than about 8 SBs around a planet), and 100% morale gives a +25%. Even late game, most worlds hover in the +50-75% to Raw Production range.
- Raw Production is really only produced by 3 things: population, mining facilities, and Colony Capitals (and Precursor Planets). It's pretty unusual to get those three things to add up to 50 or more. Which means your total Raw Production for a planet will very rarely exceed 100.
Compare that to a DR at the same time, which is going to have all the bonuses from the Factory tree to work with AND all the other manufacturing bonuses that we tend to accumulate, and that's not including the ones from buildings. By turn 300, most of my planets get +300% manufacturing just from 3-4 starbases and civ-wide bonuses without trying too hard.
A DR is going to have a bare minimum of +5 levels, and most will probably be in the +8 area. That means 16 directly to manufacturing. Just with that +300% from civ-wide bonus, that turns into a 48 manufacturing, and there's usually another +200% just from 2-3 factories and a power plant. That means the DR provides almost 100 manufacturing points in a average (non-specialty manufacturing world) setup, independent of where the production wheel sits. On a specialized manufacturing world, total manufacturing bonuses are going to be in the +1000% range by turn 300, which means the DR just by itself will produce 170+ manufacturing.
The aforementioned setup (1 DR, 2 factories, 1 power plant, in a configuration which yields +5 levels to the DR) is trivial to set up on most worlds, and consumes 4 spaces. The late-game manufacturing bonuses, which proliferate like weeds, make the DR even more powerful then than in early/mid game.
Don't get me wrong, I *like* the idea of direct bonuses to Manufacturing/Research/whatever, in addition to %-bonuses. But it becomes tricky to balance, as those flat bonuses tend to inflate very quickly out of control, since it's pretty easy to get %-bonuses from a variety of sources. And the math on this one says the DR/TDA are far superior to any other building you can build, yet are available for relatively low cost (and, as Durantium is seldom in short supply, that's no brake on their placement) and can be put on every world.
To be clear, the biggest issue with flat bonuses is that they provide more and more benefit as times goes on, without you having to do anything. A factory's +15% bonus only gets better if you can increase Raw Production, and as I pointed out above, that's pretty hard to do, with a fairly low cap. To improve there, you have to upgrade the factory (which requires time, Tech, and expending manufacturing points). The flat bonuses from the DR/TDA/PR get better every time you gain ANY %-age bonus for their stat. And there are literally dozens of ways to do this, many extremely cheaply, with a very high cap (I wouldn't be surprised if it would be possible to get +2000% to a particular stat).
The reason I don't like them as they now are is that they simply make Manufacturing too available. They've taken a game where I have to worry about how long it takes me to build ships or other improvements, to one where I've got more than enough Manufacturing to pretty much do whatever I want as fast as I want. it removes a lot of the challenge from the game.