(Beyond Pesticides, July 24, 2007) After a three-year study of worldwide organic versus conventional farm yields, researchers have found that organic farming can produce as much as, and even exceed the crop and animal yields of conventional farming. These findings dispute the myth that organic methods are less productive.
University of Michiganâ€™s School of Natural Resources and Environment professor Ivette Perfecto, Ph.D., and Catherine Badgley, Ph.D., research scientist with the Universityâ€™s Museum of Paleontology, conducted the study. Their findings are derived from a database of information from farms in both developed and developing nations. The full study, “Organic agriculture and the global food supply” is published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (formerly known as American Journal of Alternative Agriculture), Vol. 22, Issue 2.
Among the findings are that (1) in developed countries, organic and conventional farms recorded similar yields, (2) yields can be doubled or tripled in developing countries using organic methods, and (3) organic fertilizers can be used to attain such yields, even without putting more farmland into production.
Their research shows that for organic corn, yields range from 84 percent to 130 percent of conventionally grown corn. “It even surprised us,” Dr. Badgley said, “We expected we might find that it might be oh, 80 percent or something simply because thatâ€™s the number that has been cited in the past.”
This study is not the only analysis that shows organic farming can be competitive with conventional methods. Other findings have reported that comparable yields can be obtained with organic farming while using 30 percent less energy, conserving water and without pesticides.
However, some have disputed these findings. Mike Score, who has worked several years with African farmers, and is a Washtenaw County agricultural agent for Michigan State University Extension, said that these reports do not reflect his experience. Mr. Score said, “The farmers I have worked with have not been able to equal yields (with organic methods) in all cases.” He also added that other factors, such as labor and fuel costs, need to be taken into consideration.
Organic farming conserves natural resources by recycling natural materials and it encourages an abundance of species living in balanced, harmonious ecosystems. Organic farmers are required by the National Organic Standards to minimize soil erosion; implement crop rotations; provide for the humane, general welfare and health of farm animals and prevent contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant and animal nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances. Even though the popularity of organic produce has grown tremendously in recent years, farmers in the US are not nearly keeping pace with consumer demand for organic products, estimated to be growing by 20 percent a year. Organic growers face an uphill battle against the conventional growers that get the lionâ€™s share of appropriations from the Farm Bill.
Beyond Pesticides is a member of the National Organic Coalition that is advocating for an increase in the funding available for organic farmers in the 2007 Farm Bill. For more information, please visit http://www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/index.htm.
Source: The Ann Arbor News