Organic Farming Yields often Better Than with Agrochemicals

Catherine Brahic writes in New Scientist that Organic farming could feed the world:

Numerous studies have compared the yields of organic and conventional methods for individual crops and animal products (see 20-year study backs organic farming).

Now, a team of researchers has compiled research from 293 different comparisons into a single study to assess the overall efficiency of the two agricultural systems.

Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan in the US and her colleagues found that, in developed countries, organic systems on average produce 92% of the yield produced by conventional agriculture. In developing countries, however, organic systems produce 80% more than conventional farms.

So developing countries don’t need Monsanto to feed themselves after all. Quite the opposite: they can do much better with organic methods.

Perfecto points out that the materials needed for organic farming are more accessible to farmers in poor countries.

Those poor farmers may buy the same seeds as conventional farms use in rich countries, but they cannot afford the fertilisers and pesticides needed for intensive agriculture. However, “organic fertiliser doesn’t cost much – they can produce it on their own farms”, says Perfecto.

And if their crops fail, they can replant, because they can save seeds. And if they don’t all use the same seeds, there’s less chance their crops will all fail at once.

Getting certified as organic is another story.

9 thoughts on “Organic Farming Yields often Better Than with Agrochemicals

  1. John Quarterman

    Ah, would that it were so simple that one could post a list of “the truths” about anything!
    For example, that 50 year study merely compared specific nutrients; it did not compare additives. Let’s see a study comparing organic food vs. the processed food stuffed with high fructose corn syrup that is typically found on supermarket shelves.
    Similarly, Norman Borlaug’s assertion (not study) that organic farming would require more land is refuted by the study cited in the blog post we’re commenting on.
    I like the point about reclaiming paved-over land. Yes, rail would help with that, by reducing the need for roads.
    As for extreme positions, given that current agrochemical factory farming is so extreme that it’s poisoning us all, one hardly has to be extreme to oppose it. That traditional agriculture without heavy inputs of petrochemicals could even be considered extreme illustrates how far from sustainable the status quo has gotten.

  2. Canada Guy

    John, I’m willing to trust the scientific data. They didn’t specifically take pesticides into account, but that doesn’t matter since they compared two groups of people eating different foods. If the pesticides (or anything else) were going to make a net difference, it would have showed. Now, maybe the organic food had some other issue that counteracted the pesticides, or maybe the peticides weren’t high enough, who knows. So far no study has demonstrated any difference.
    But, it doesn’t matter, that’s not the main reason we need organic anyway, we need sustainable food production, and we need to stop damaging the environment. All I’m saying is we don’t get rid of all conventional agriculture overnight, we take it step by step to make sure food production stays at an acceptable level.

  3. Canada Guy

    Btw, I should also mention some of the organic proponents who are arguing that all the studies are fixed and it’s a conspiracy by big ag, sound a *lot* like the people making similar arguments about why global warming is fake.

  4. John Quarterman

    Guy, I found the abstract for the study you cited,
    and it doesn’t say anything about comparing two groups of people eating different foods. It says it examined studies about nutritional content of food crops, specifically mentioning for example nitrogen and phosphorus.
    Maybe somewhere in the study it talks about what you say it does; if so, please point to where, and I will pony up to buy a copy of the full text so I can read that part. Otherwise, I will continue to go by what the authors’ own abstract says.
    Most people don’t eat food crops straight out of the field. They buy foods at supermarkets. My point remains that a study comparing people eating organic produce vs. people eating the U.S. standard supermarket diet of mostly processed foods containing large amounts of high fructose corn syrup would probably show pronounced differences in effects on the people involved. I don’t know of any such study, but I hope somebody does one.
    We’re obviously not going to get rid of so-called “conventional” agriculture overnight. And you and I are in agreement as to many other reasons we need more organic agriculture.
    I have no idea who you have found arguing that studies are fixed. Please cite whoever you’re referring to.

  5. Canada Guy

    Hi John,
    Okay, fair enough. Here’s another study:
    And this article provides a bit more info the on the British study:
    They say: “A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.”
    Now, lack of proof isn’t a proof that there is no difference. Maybe it really is healthier. But this remains to be proven. Hopefully someone will publish a new article with such evidence.
    As for people saying it’s fixed, I just meant random comments I’ve seen on blog and forums.

  6. John Quarterman

    Guy, that other study you cite did involve feeding produce to animals and is most interesting.
    As for the MSNBC blurb, yes, it says the same thing the Dangour study’s own abstract says: no difference in nutrient content.
    I’m curious why you keep repeating that. I have twice made the point that nutrients found in produce aren’t the whole of what most people (in the U.S. at least) eat; their usual diet contains a lot of processed foods containing large amounts of high fructose corn syrup. A much more useful study would compare that to a diet eaten by people who prefer organic foods.
    Meanwhile, neither of the studies you cite looked at what *other* than nutrients is contained in produce or retained by those who eat it. This study does:
    Yum, malathion and chlorpyrifos in actual school children!

  7. Canada Guy

    Okay, thanks for the link John. I hope someone will publish something in Science or Nature and get it settled definitely once and for all then. 🙂

  8. drip irrigation systems

    we must pay attention to the results of such extensive research. This research is very serious in terms of its time length scale as well as the number of farms that were observed.No doubt – The results show a single trend

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