Advertisement

Conventional Yields Trump Organic

A new meta-analysis of farming practices suggests that traditional methods of cultivating food plants result in heftier harvests than do organic strategies.

By | April 26, 2012

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, USDA

While organic farming may limit the amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides entering the environment, it may not be the most efficient way to feed the world's more than 1 billion chronically hungry inhabitants, according to a new study comparing conventional and organic agricultural practices.

The study, which was published online in Nature yesterday (April 25), reanalyzed data from 66 studies comparing the yields of 34 different crops in both organic and conventional farming systems. The authors found that yields from organic farms were up to 34 percent lower than yields from conventional farms cultivating the same crop. Organic farming practices resulted in particularly low yields for wheat and some vegetables. Fruits, like strawberries, and oilseed crops, such as soybean, on the other hand, showed only modest yield reductions on organic farms; just 3 and 11 percent lower than conventional farming yields, respectively.

"I think organic farming does have a role to play because under some conditions it does perform pretty well," lead author and McGill University Earth system scientist Verena Seufert told Nature. But "overall, organic yields are significantly lower than conventional yields." Seufert and her coauthors suggested that soil nitrogen was likely one of the limiting factors in organic farming systems.

Advertisement

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You

You

Processing...
Processing...

Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo

Comments

April 26, 2012

Is the point of organic farming to increase yield or to provide safer food? It's almost ironic that right above this is a link to an article on banned antibiotics in animals. Isn't the point of organic farming to ensure that potentially dangerous chemicals aren't in the food supply chain?

Avatar of: DougT22

DougT22

Posts: 1

April 26, 2012

Wow, given the consistent evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food, by approximately the same proportions, it makes a good case for how organic food practices can keep us nutritiously satisfied without the additional calories it would take to eat the same amount of nutrition from conventional sources.   An important point for an under-nourished and increasingly obese nation.

And that positive conclusion is even without taking into consideration the negative environmental consequences of conventional agriculture, as excess nitrogen and phosphorous from chemical fertilizer run offs causing algae blooms killing off lakes and ponds, the poisoning of birds and animals with pesticides and insecticides (e.g., recent bee colony collapse phenomena as a case in point), etc.

An article that would look at total yields without balancing with nutritional content data is suspicious to me, especially since by definition "food" refers to a substance with nutritional utility to the body.

Avatar of: JustAskAlice

JustAskAlice

Posts: 5

April 26, 2012

Why is yield paramount? Parameters like nutrition content, compatibility with the ecosystem, and overall health benefit seem to be more important than yield.

Avatar of: RichardPatrock

RichardPatrock

Posts: 52

April 26, 2012

Oh what a find!  Who didn't realize that organic agriculture led to reduced yields?  Of course there is a cost to everything.  Take the practice of crop rotation, for instance.  In the US, what does a farmer care about the quality of his soil when she can dump synthetic, oil-based fertilizers at a minor cost to the annual bottom line?  Who cares about quality of soil when the land will probably not be passed on to her children but instead be sold to a developer and fractioned into concrete covered roads and building foundations?  The study was a waste of energy because it doesn't examine the long-term and omnibus costs of industrial farming.  Wow, this is now traditional agriculture!  Our memory is as a poor as our grasp of the future consequences of our current yields.

Avatar of: fortinmc

fortinmc

Posts: 1

April 26, 2012

Don't forget that the high-yielding varieties have been bred and developed using relatively high does of synthetic nitrogen so it is no surprise that these same varieties do not respond as well under organic conditions. What needs to be done is to develop varieties that will respond well to organic practices and then test these against the conventional practices.  A few more years of work are needed for this to happen.

Avatar of: Sneed Urn

Sneed Urn

Posts: 1

April 26, 2012

The yield differences have been known for a long time.   It is not the issue.  The suggestion that higher yields leads to less world hunger is completely false.  "Politics" in the broad sense is responsible for starvation.  "Politics" meaning nations prioritizing things other than food security and food safety.  Farming and food as   commodities rather than an essential element of survival and health is a problematic way to pursue food issues and ultimately is the cause of starvation.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

Is the point of organic farming to increase yield or to provide safer food? It's almost ironic that right above this is a link to an article on banned antibiotics in animals. Isn't the point of organic farming to ensure that potentially dangerous chemicals aren't in the food supply chain?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

Wow, given the consistent evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food, by approximately the same proportions, it makes a good case for how organic food practices can keep us nutritiously satisfied without the additional calories it would take to eat the same amount of nutrition from conventional sources.   An important point for an under-nourished and increasingly obese nation.

And that positive conclusion is even without taking into consideration the negative environmental consequences of conventional agriculture, as excess nitrogen and phosphorous from chemical fertilizer run offs causing algae blooms killing off lakes and ponds, the poisoning of birds and animals with pesticides and insecticides (e.g., recent bee colony collapse phenomena as a case in point), etc.

An article that would look at total yields without balancing with nutritional content data is suspicious to me, especially since by definition "food" refers to a substance with nutritional utility to the body.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

Why is yield paramount? Parameters like nutrition content, compatibility with the ecosystem, and overall health benefit seem to be more important than yield.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

Oh what a find!  Who didn't realize that organic agriculture led to reduced yields?  Of course there is a cost to everything.  Take the practice of crop rotation, for instance.  In the US, what does a farmer care about the quality of his soil when she can dump synthetic, oil-based fertilizers at a minor cost to the annual bottom line?  Who cares about quality of soil when the land will probably not be passed on to her children but instead be sold to a developer and fractioned into concrete covered roads and building foundations?  The study was a waste of energy because it doesn't examine the long-term and omnibus costs of industrial farming.  Wow, this is now traditional agriculture!  Our memory is as a poor as our grasp of the future consequences of our current yields.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

Don't forget that the high-yielding varieties have been bred and developed using relatively high does of synthetic nitrogen so it is no surprise that these same varieties do not respond as well under organic conditions. What needs to be done is to develop varieties that will respond well to organic practices and then test these against the conventional practices.  A few more years of work are needed for this to happen.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

The yield differences have been known for a long time.   It is not the issue.  The suggestion that higher yields leads to less world hunger is completely false.  "Politics" in the broad sense is responsible for starvation.  "Politics" meaning nations prioritizing things other than food security and food safety.  Farming and food as   commodities rather than an essential element of survival and health is a problematic way to pursue food issues and ultimately is the cause of starvation.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 27, 2012

Well first of all quality also counts. Secondly, what about the so much in fashion now "environmental imprint" (eg, use of water, pollution etc). And the last but not least, perhaps it is time to look at other organic farming technologies such as prof. T. Higa and his effective microorganisms which nurture the soil with nitrogen well enough to actually OVERCOME the yield from conventional farming systems while protecting both the consumers and the environment.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 27, 2012

The choice of organic is a matter of taste because no independent studies have shown advantages when compared with conventional products. Less than 1% of world's agricultural production is organic so far. The lab of Bruce Ames, that created important methodology to identify chemicals that induce changes in DNA (may cause cancer) has published in 1990 a revealing paper. Here the title and abstract for all to appreciate:  Dietary pesticides
(99.99% all natural) BRUCE N. AMES, MARGIE PROFET, and Lois SWIRSKY GOLD,  Proc. Nad. Acad. Sci. USA
Vol. 87, pp. 7777-7781 (1990) Abstract:

The toxicological significance of exposures to synthetic chemicals is examined in the context of exposures to naturally
occurring chemicals. We calculate that 99.99% (by weight) of the pesticides in
the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves. Only
52 natural pesticides have been tested in high-dose animal cancer tests,and
about half (27) are rodent carcinogens; these 27 are shown to be present in
many common foods. We conclude that natural and
synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.
We  also conclude that at the low
doses of most human exposures the comparative hazards of synthetic pesticide
residues are insignificant.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 27, 2012

Don't know any farmers, do you?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 27, 2012

 My background and professional training for over 30 years is in IPM.  I've worked in coffee, cotton, vegetable and pulse farming in Mexico, Jamaica, Florida and Texas.  I've been on all kinds of farms, those where they burn dodder using helicopters to pick off the cassava hornworms by hand.  Many farmers have economic pressures to do what they do. It doesn't make it ecologically sound to do so, however.

Avatar of: Iwona Grad

Iwona Grad

Posts: 1457

April 27, 2012

Well first of all quality also counts. Secondly, what about the so much in fashion now "environmental imprint" (eg, use of water, pollution etc). And the last but not least, perhaps it is time to look at other organic farming technologies such as prof. T. Higa and his effective microorganisms which nurture the soil with nitrogen well enough to actually OVERCOME the yield from conventional farming systems while protecting both the consumers and the environment.

April 27, 2012

The choice of organic is a matter of taste because no independent studies have shown advantages when compared with conventional products. Less than 1% of world's agricultural production is organic so far. The lab of Bruce Ames, that created important methodology to identify chemicals that induce changes in DNA (may cause cancer) has published in 1990 a revealing paper. Here the title and abstract for all to appreciate:  Dietary pesticides
(99.99% all natural) BRUCE N. AMES, MARGIE PROFET, and Lois SWIRSKY GOLD,  Proc. Nad. Acad. Sci. USA
Vol. 87, pp. 7777-7781 (1990) Abstract:

The toxicological significance of exposures to synthetic chemicals is examined in the context of exposures to naturally
occurring chemicals. We calculate that 99.99% (by weight) of the pesticides in
the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves. Only
52 natural pesticides have been tested in high-dose animal cancer tests,and
about half (27) are rodent carcinogens; these 27 are shown to be present in
many common foods. We conclude that natural and
synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.
We  also conclude that at the low
doses of most human exposures the comparative hazards of synthetic pesticide
residues are insignificant.

Avatar of: texasaggie

texasaggie

Posts: 40

April 27, 2012

Don't know any farmers, do you?

Avatar of: RichardPatrock

RichardPatrock

Posts: 52

April 27, 2012

 My background and professional training for over 30 years is in IPM.  I've worked in coffee, cotton, vegetable and pulse farming in Mexico, Jamaica, Florida and Texas.  I've been on all kinds of farms, those where they burn dodder using helicopters to pick off the cassava hornworms by hand.  Many farmers have economic pressures to do what they do. It doesn't make it ecologically sound to do so, however.

Avatar of: agelbert

agelbert

Posts: 50

April 28, 2012

Your definition of "yield" constitutes a procrustean bed which leaves out inconvenient tangibles as well as intangibles.

EVERYTHING we do MUST be recyclable or the human species will destroy itself and a large part of the biosphere. What part of 100% recyclable do you not understand?

Now if you can get yourself to include factory pollution from farm machine manufacturing, chemical fertilizer manufacturing and runoff, impact of the plow on the biosphere as opposed to permaculture (see the Land Institute in Kansas) which doesn't tear up the land to grow crops, perhaps your definition of "yield" wouldn't look like a gamed unemployment stat from the BLS (Beauro of Lying Statistics sometimes called the Beauro of Labor Statistics).

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 28, 2012

Your definition of "yield" constitutes a procrustean bed which leaves out inconvenient tangibles as well as intangibles.

EVERYTHING we do MUST be recyclable or the human species will destroy itself and a large part of the biosphere. What part of 100% recyclable do you not understand?

Now if you can get yourself to include factory pollution from farm machine manufacturing, chemical fertilizer manufacturing and runoff, impact of the plow on the biosphere as opposed to permaculture (see the Land Institute in Kansas) which doesn't tear up the land to grow crops, perhaps your definition of "yield" wouldn't look like a gamed unemployment stat from the BLS (Beauro of Lying Statistics sometimes called the Beauro of Labor Statistics).

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
Mettler Toledo
Mettler Toledo
Life Technologies