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Earth Science

Organics Can't Match Conventional Farm Yields 452

Posted by timothy
from the that's-what-they-want-you-to-think dept.
scibri writes "A comprehensive analysis published in Nature (abstract) suggests that organic farming could supply needs in some circumstances. But yields are lower than in conventional farming, so producing the bulk of the globe's diet will still require chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The meta-analysis reviewed 66 studies comparing the yields of 34 different crop species in organic and conventional farming systems. The researchers included only studies that assessed the total land area used, allowing them to compare crop yields per unit area. Many previous studies that have showed large yields for organic farming ignore the size of the area planted — which is often bigger than in conventional farming. Crop yields from organic farming are as much as 34% lower than those from comparable conventional farming practices, though in some cases, notably with strawberries and soybeans, the gap is as small as 3%."
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Organics Can't Match Conventional Farm Yields

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  • by ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @04:55PM (#39813007)

    Did they take into account the costs that go into production of fertilizers and pesticides? I imagine that they take up non-zero space and that transporting them costs resources as well. Though it's hard to say how much oil a bushel of wheat is worth...

  • Re:Ummm. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:03PM (#39813157)

    Sad, but true: organic food - and with it, all the grass-fed, free-range and other land- and labor-intensive farming - will be the purview of the rich. Or at least the moderately wealthy. The rest of you, go stand in line for pink slime, industrial eggs and speed-grown corn.

  • Ignorami (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:21PM (#39813359)

    I've lived my entire life in the Upper Great Plains of the US. My family is cattle-ranchers. In Iowa, where I live now, our towns and cities are covered with endless square miles of corn -- all of which is grown conventionally.

    I really dislike it when those who've never even seen a farm comment "authoritatively" about farming. It's like listening to Alex Jones talk about IT: he's obviously ignorant. In fact, he's so ignorant that one doesn't even know where to start correcting him.

    Bottom-line for the ignorami: shut up. You have no idea what you're talking about, and it's painfully obvious to those of us who do.

    Bottom-line for the long-haired hippie freaks who want us to convert to "organic" (i.e. pre-scientific advancement farming):

    It'd serve you right if we did. You'd starve. The world is fed by my neighbors. If you want them to scrape by on subsistence-level farming, fine: we'll just eat what we grow while you idiots starve.

  • Re:Ummm. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by doston (2372830) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:22PM (#39813381)

    Sad, but true: organic food - and with it, all the grass-fed, free-range and other land- and labor-intensive farming - will be the purview of the rich. Or at least the moderately wealthy. The rest of you, go stand in line for pink slime, industrial eggs and speed-grown corn.

    Maybe, but this article and study aside, I've been watching the price of organics drop for years. Maybe organic crops aren't as efficient as they could be yet. As far as being the purview of the wealthy, I think that's only true to a point. I've just resigned myself to spending a higher percentage of my income on food. People in the US spent 6% of their income on food in 2009, UK 9% and France 14%. There are whole regions of France who only eat organic food. I'd like to see more people in the upper income brackets buy organic food and grass-fed, organic meat, pastured poultry and eggs, exclusively. I think it's a responsibility and might have a similar effect of lowering the price, sort of like electronics "early adopters". Here in the US, we throw away 33 million tons of food per year. Maybe we don't need so much efficiency after all.

  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:38PM (#39813599) Homepage Journal

    I can't agree that GMO's are "conventional" agriculture.

    "Conventional" agriculture seeds the fields with part of the last harvest, the seeds of the plants which survived in the local conditions. After about 20 generations or so, you have "land race" genetics -- plants whose genomes have self-tuned to the pests and weather of the local environment. Provided the environment remains stable and isn't affected by imported pests, such crops are far more productive than genetics imported from outside the region.

    GMO's on the other hand, have one purpose and one purpose only: To allow the use of herbicides and pesticides that would kill the "natural" plant. I can guarantee you that if landrace genetics were resistant to those same herbicides and pesticides that they'd out-produce the imported GMOs.

  • Re:Ummm. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pspahn (1175617) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:42PM (#39813649)

    Tomatillos. Not so much a food plant, but tasty nonetheless.

    Strawberries may seem like a good candidate, except that they are so easy to spoil. Those organic yields may nearly be on par with non-organic, but I'm guessing the non-organic have a significantly longer shelf life.

    Aside from all that, people actually used to grow their own plants. I know not everybody can do this, but a majority of first-world citizens could easily have their own gardens during the growing season. They're just too lazy.

  • Re:Ummm. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sribe (304414) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:46PM (#39813695)

    I think it's a responsibility and might have a similar effect of lowering the price...

    Wal-Mart has set its sights on the organic market and is pushing its producers to adopt organic practices, so your wish for lower prices is likely to come true.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:47PM (#39813699)

    The insitute for organic farming has found that organic farming is the best?

    STOP THE PRESSES!

    Next on Slashdot: Coca Cola releases 30 year study showing that Coke tastes better than Pepsi!

  • Re:Ummm. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by icebike (68054) * on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:20PM (#39814143)

    I thought a number of problems were from feeding cattle CORN. Raise them on organic pasture, as the ancients did and you'll get a healthier animal than one doped on medications.

    The "Ancients"???
    What is this, a sifi show or something?

    100 years ago is not "ancient".
    And while your dreaming up and excuse for using the word Ancient, define "healthier animal".

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:29PM (#39814271)

    Did they take into account the costs that go into production of fertilizers and pesticides? I imagine that they take up non-zero space and that transporting them costs resources as well. Though it's hard to say how much oil a bushel of wheat is worth...

    Actually the single biggest cost in modern farming are petroleum products. Most fertilizers and pesticides are petroleum based and a lot of the expense is in fuel costs. Most seem to consider what is called free range and organic farming as something new or even new age hyppie. It's actually traditional farming as opposed to modern farming that relies heavily on chemicals and hybrids and lately GMO. The difference is traditional farming has a 12,000 year history and modern farming is coming up on a hundred years. Already modern farming is showing signs of wear. Soil is depleted meaning they more not less chemicals. Even GMO products are showing their age. Pests are becoming resistant. I question how long modern farming can last where as traditional organic farming can last indefinitely. Oil prices will go up making food more expensive. Traditional farming even uses less fuel so it can absorb the increases better. As far as how expensive organic production is I'd counter that if it's done right it can be just as cheap with little environmental impact. Free range chickens can potentially be raised without feed or with a small amount of supplimental feed grown at little or no cost by the farmer. Free range cattle also potentially need no feed and tend to be healthier so they need less antibiotics and such. Look at pig farming. I read an article on a farmer in New Hampshire raising pigs that are primarily grass fed. They are leaner and healthier and cost little to raise. The difference is you can't cram 10,000 pigs in one barn like in a factory farm you need more land. The real issue isn't needing more land the problem countries are facing is how so we feed 10 billion people with what land is available. I just read once again that the ocean fisheries will collapse by the middle of the century and most have already. More chemicals aren't the solution fewer people is the only long term solution. As to organic verses chemical based farming, running out of oil will end that debate. It's a finite resource so it's simply a matter of time.

  • Ironic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:53PM (#39814547) Homepage

    As a farmer and someone who knows quite allot about all levels of food production and consumption I find this post ridiculously ironic.
    Your neighbours are, of course, creating billions of tons of sweeteners and bio-fuels not food. Sure a small percentage will go to cattle who will convert it very inefficiently to food that will be eaten by humans, but that number (even without taking out the 40% that will be thrown out at the end) will be a tiny percentage of that.

  • by decora (1710862) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:24PM (#39814855) Journal

    of cost reduction are what are required to meet a population growing at a geometric rate, in theory.

    if you want to argue that somehow the 'resources required' to grow organics wont meet population growth, you have to prove that somehow conventional produce can meet the geometric rate increase while organics cant.

    but if you go into the store, organics are not 'orders of magnitude' more expensive than conventional produce. they are usually 1 to 3 times more in cost. thats not an order of magnitude. its a pretty simple scalar multiple.

    and alot of the difference in cost is because of subsidies for various industries, like the oil industry where the petroleum precursor of most fertilizers and insecticides comes from.

    now, go into any supermarket, and look on the shelves. you see a huge amount of processed food, repackaged, precooked, pre-stuffed, etc etc etc. all of that 'added value' is, well, basically its waste. nobody "needs" frozen apple turnovers with chocolate icing in the pattern of a heart shape, but you can go buy it if you want. the idea that somehow organic food would be 'wasted productivity' in the food system is absolutely ridiculous when you look at all the crap in the various 'value added' isles of the supermarket. all of those are, essentially, lowering the efficiency of transporting the calories from the farm to the belly. you could simply sell 5 pound bags of flour for 2 dollars each, and get rid of the entire cereal and cracker aisle, and the people would get the same nutritional value approximately, but they would save a huge amount of money. money = resources. those resources saved could then be put back into growing 'extra food' and meeting the 'growing population'.

    but that argument is fucking stupid because the 2-3 times price markup for a bag of crackers vs a bag of raw flour (which you could use to make your own goddamn crackers) is not going to cause mass starvation simply because its less efficient. all it does is make people smile because crackers taste good, and make food companies and retailers money because they can 'value add' to the raw flour and build a profit into the increased price.

    now if you see organics, instead of some hippy 'impediment to growth and optimization of food supply', and, instead simply view it as another way to deliver calories or raw food products, then the arguments against them from an efficiency standpoint are just as stupid.

    you cant say that organic flour is going to cause mass starvation because it costs 5 bucks a pound instead of 3 bucks a pound, when you have just repackaged that conventional flour into cheerios on the next aisle and are selling it for 6 bucks a pound.

    these people are fucking idiots and should be embarassed to call themselves thinkers.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:40PM (#39815103)
    The research has been done and the reason that locally grown tomatoes taste better is because they are locally grown and thus are picked when they are riper and closer to their flavor peak. It makes no difference if they are "organically" grown or not. The key is that they are grown locally and picked at the peak of ripeness rather than picked some distance away and allowed to "ripen" while being shipped.
  • Re:Ummm. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:50PM (#39816809) Homepage Journal

    "define "healthier animal""

    Not very good with the ruminant digestive system eh?

    They're not meant to eat corn and bulk grains. They're meant to eat GRASS.

    The detrimental effects are well-documented by veterinarians across the globe.

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