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Organic Farm Yields Are Higher Than You May Think

Organic Farm Yields Are Higher Than You May Think

Organic Farm Yields Are Higher Than You May Think

Increasing the proportion of agriculture that uses sustainable, organic methods of farming is not a choice, it’s a necessity. We simply can’t continue to produce food far into the future without taking care of our soils, water and biodiversity.

– Dr. Claire Kremen, UC Berkeley

Positive news on the organic farm front. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley reviewed more than 100 studies and found organic farm yields to be higher than previously estimated. The gap between conventional and organic farm productivity is smaller than we thought. They also found that certain practices could close that gap further.

A UC Berkeley news release writes that the research “tackles the lingering perception that organic farming, while offering an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemically intensive agriculture, cannot produce enough food to satisfy the world’s appetite.”

The UC Berkeley team analyzed 115 prior research studies containing more than 1,000 observations and used a new analytical framework to improve data quality. This data set is three times larger than any previously used to estimate the organic versus traditional gap. Based on its analysis, organic farm yields are only 19.2% lower than those of conventional farms — a smaller gap than found in other studies.

Even better, the team found that certain farming practices further increase organic farm yields. Multi-cropping — the practice of growing two different crops and in the same space during a single season — reduced the yield difference to a mere 9%. Crop rotation — growing different types of crops in the same space in subsequent seasons — reduced it to 8%.

Claire Kremen, Professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley said in the press release: “With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it’s critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining.”

It’s also important because the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported that if current rates of soil degradation continue, the world’s top soil could be gone within 60 years. The use of chemical-intensive farming techniques is a key factor in soil quality.

Read the full study in The Royal Society Publishing’s Proceedings B.

Want to learn more about the benefits of organic farming? Here’s some positivity for you:

Organic Farming Trumps Conventional Farming in 30-Year Study, Big Time! (PlanetSave)

Reports Show Less Water Used In Organic Farming (EcoLocalizer)

Organic Farms Support More Species (Green Building Elements)

Could Organic Farming be the Key to Feeding a Warming World? (Eat Drink Better)

Organic Strawberry Farms Found to have Better Fruit and Soil (Eat Drink Better)

Image Credit: Plant via Shutterstock

15 comments
  1. FarmersSon63

    How many of you are willing accept 19.2% less hourly income?
    And be so busy with your new work agreement that you could never have available time from overtime again?
    Does this sound like an improvement to you?

    1. FarmerJon

      Pesticides cost money. Organic expenditure on chemicals is less, which helps bottom line revenue. And looking long term, conventional farming damages soil quality and lowers yield year on year, so over multiple years the yield disparity is negated, probably reversed. In the big picture organic is a saner, more economical way to farm.

      1. FarmersSon63

        Jon, US farmers achieved an AVERAGE corn yield of 174.2/acre in 2014. This is an all time high. Virtually none was organically grown.
        How could this be? After almost 100 years of continuous cropping and “damaging soil quality” like you claim? According to you they should have achieved an all time low. LOL
        You really need to look into a field of study called Agronomy.

        1. FarmerJon

          Hehe…A leaking bucket fills up if the tap is bigger than the hole….it still has a hole. Net gain is due to:

          1. Selective breeding/GM creating higher-yielding varieties.
          2. Increased monocultivation of high-yielders at the cost of varietal diversity.

          These gains mask the loss caused by conventional farming damaging soil integrity which results in erosion and loss of topsoil (billions of tonnes a year in US alone).

          Don’t take my word for it, here’s the US Environmental Protection Agency:

          “The loss in productivity
          caused by erosion has not been so evident in many parts of the U.S., since
          it has been compensated for over the years by improved crop varieties
          and increased fertilization.”

          So there you go. Those gains have come at a price not reflected in the yield too:

          Cost 1: In the last 100 years, Pesticide application has massively increased – mainly to protect varieties which favour yield over resistance. It’s costly, and poisons things it’s not meant to.

          Cost 2: In the last 100 years application of energy-inefficient synthetic fertilizer has increased massively. It’s also costly, you just don’t see that reflected in the yield, especially in the heavily-subsidized US agri industry.

          Cost 3: In the last 100 years, crop diversity has decreased massively, by more than 90% due to favouring high-yield monocultures. Reduced diversity decreases the genepool and increased susceptibility to diseases. The direct result is monoculture wipeout, as happened to 1970 US corn crop.

          Agronomy 101 over, shut the door on your way out LOL.

          1. FarmersSon63

            Most every study you find will say that conventional cropping practices will out yield organic crops by 20%. Corn in high management environments will out yield organic by 40-50%.
            The problem with organic is all the intense tillage that is needed for weed control, resulting in massive erosion issues. Where many conventional corn acres are no-till or minimum till when using herbicides for weed control, resulting in much lower erosion rates than organic cropping systems.
            You and your minions falsely claim that US farmers are guilty of “Monocropping”. You do not even understand the term. Mono means one. There is almost zero acres in the US that are corn on corn, soybeans on soybeans or wheat on wheat. Very rare. Most farmers are practicing crop rotations. The advantages of rotating a cereal/corn with soybeans or another legume are taken advantage of by many farmers. I live in the corn belt myself and virtually every acre of corn here is in a crop rotation with either soybeans or alfalfa.
            Organic farming’s biggest downfall is fertilizer.
            Virtually 100% of all livestock manure/human waste is already used in agriculture. This only accounts for 3% of the fertilizer needs in the US. Where is the other 97% of the needed fertilizer going to magically appear from?
            Even if you could find enough manure/organic fertilizer to sustain high crop yields on 400 million acres of crop land, you will be poisoning the land. Manure is too high in phosphorous, too high in heavy metals and too low in Nitrogen. To apply the rate of nitrogen needed to maintain conventional crop yields, you would poison your soil with toxic levels of phosphorous and heavy metals in just a few years. Manufactured fertilizers are available in forms that only contain the nutrient you need. Such as pure nitrogen sources like anhydrous ammonia, urea and UAN. No potential toxic, unneeded nutrients come with the nitrogen.
            I understand the idea and the goal you want to achieve.
            In the real world, organic farming will drastically reduce yields, cause devastating soil erosion, cause massive food cost increases and result in mass farmer bankruptcies.
            Now do you understand why @ 95% of US farm acres do not practice organic crop production practices?

  2. Randall

    I compost, I raise some crops organically–meaning compost is the only input (no pesticides or commercial fertilizers) I raise conventional and some GMO crops. We run grazing beef and confinement dairy–which is the source of our compost.

    Most of the time, my organic crops do well, I’m careful of where and what I plant. Basically, I cherry-pick. The big problem is there is nowhere near enough input for them. If I had to grow all organic, there simply isn’t enough compost (replaces commercial fertilizer) to raise a significant crop.

    To think that organic production can keep up with conventional production overall is not realistic. Organic production now gets “the best stuff,” and it can’t keep up.

    Rodale is not reliable. They have taken 40 years, and skew the data (they use intensive crops and high market prices on a small scale vs. “standard” procedures) to present–with a missionary-religious zeal, the unrealistic benefits of organic.

  3. Keith Beckerink

    News flash Organic growing is not sustainable all one has to do is know the numbers and look at history

    1. Eric Bjerregaard

      Keith, while I agree with you when it comes to large scale production, essentially because of the input limitations mentioned by Randall. In limited circumstances near urban areas and CAFO operations that generate a lot of organic waste. Organic operations may well be sustainable. They recycle the waste and often sell for retail prices at local markets. In that way they can compensate for the higher labor costs the often deal with. Jing’s comment on the other hand ignores the many food supply failures that have occurred during the history he mentions. The Anasazi collapse is thought to have been due to a combination of drought and lack of nutrients in the soil. He also forgets that the manures and cover crops contain chemicals. That is what the plants need.

      1. Keith Beckerink

        The problem with all organic nutrients is to get what you need for high yields you need to put a lot of manure on which loads up the nutrients in the soils you don’t need.
        Synthetic fertilizer and micro nutrients allows you to tailor the nutrients to the crop and soil conditions.
        Not near the runoff as with organic
        That being said growing with just synthetic fertilizer’s also not sustainable as organic levels in soil go down and it no longer can hold nutrients or percolate water.
        Eric I enjoy your reply as it doesn’t insult like most o the commenters in a forum like this.

        1. Eric Bjerregaard

          Thanks Keith, Some of our local organic growers have occasional expressed concern about Phosphate build up from continual manure applications. No one seems to have run into a problem from it though. The soil around here is so sandy that there is very little run off, even during heavy rains. Also I have read that the bigger run off issues are in states where the ground freezes and manure is applied too early in season. makes sense. Do you know of a problem to look for re the phosphate? I use horse stall muck as a mulch and rarely the chicken manure. Then use granular ferts and minor minerals. Also I have an injector and run a 22-0-12 through it on the pineapples as they take in nutrients in the crown.
          The insults will come later when the “organic is the only way all the time and shipping costs for tons of organic matter is irrelevant ” crowd reads our posts

          1. FarmersSon63

            The plant cannot uptake organic forms of nutrients. The plant can only uptake inorganic forms of nutrients.
            It is simple chemistry.
            You cannot continuously grow high yielding crops using organic fertilizers like manure. The soils will quickly have a toxic build up of phosphorous and heavy metals. Resulting in a sterile soil. Like you see in continuous feedlots.

            1. Eric Bjerregaard

              Ok, That’s pretty much what I thought. I do remember some basics such as the need for the matter to break down into [the horror] chemicals to be available and I expect some N tie up from the carbon in the stall muck. But quite frankly took chemistry alooong time ago and before I started growing. I have friends that have been using virtually nothing but chicken manure for over 20 years. I did notice that their kale has smaller leaves than mine. But have not really seen or heard of any problems with this routine showing up.

  4. Jing Yagunazie

    organic farming has been successful since man has been on earth. Until chemicals retarded the opinion that man can not grow food without chemicals.

    1. FarmersSon63

      When the world was 100% organic, there were less than 2 billion mouth’s to feed. Now there are over 7 Billion mouth’s to feed.
      93% of US farm ground currently IS NOT organic.
      Are you willing to trim the worlds population back to under 4 billion people so we can go back to 100% organic?

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