It is suspected that planting fields containing a variety of crops is more efficient at warding off pests and disease compared to monoculture, which is a big argument for shifting towards organic farming, but it has not been well-studied. A recent grant will fund the study of biodiverse crop covers, and this is big step to bring organic farming to the forefront of sustainable food production.
Grant for organic farm research
Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences received a $2.3 million grant from the USDA to research how biodiverse crops and crops rotations can improve production in organic farming.
They are looking specifically to determine if diverse crop covers such as a corn-soybean-wheat combinations producing organic feed will enhance ecosystem function.
Why organic farming?
It makes sense that it will enhance the surrounding ecosystem. Having biodiversity means not only that there are many different types of plants, but these plants attract and are vulnerable to different pests and are not necessarily susceptible to the same diseases. They also use different nutrients in the soil, and leave different nutrients behind after harvest.
According the project leader:
Cover crops are particularly important for managing weeds and nutrients on organic farms where synthetic fertilizers and many pesticides are not allowed.
Most studies focus on one function, but we will measure simultaneous effects on nutrient supply, nutrient retention, weed suppression, insect pest regulation, soil quality, erosion control, yield and short-term profitability.
We think it is important for agricultural research to include a number of ecosystem functions because we expect tradeoffs among them. For example, treatments that maximize nutrient supply may not be optimal for weed suppression.
It’s not just for hippies anymore
As people are made more aware of organic farming, and more particularly the possible health and environmental effects of conventional farming, more people buy organic.
According to USDA, more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28 percent buy organic products weekly.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by suzettesuzette
Source: Penn State Live