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Earth Science

Organics Can't Match Conventional Farm Yields 452

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 metrometro ( 1092237 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:57PM (#39813053)

    Which will we run out of first, oil or dirt?

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:58PM (#39813073)

    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...

    I think part of the point of "organics" and other alternative farming methods is that some societies can't afford our lavish style.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:59PM (#39813075)

    I find the rhetorical twist here interesting: "conventional farming" is now the artificially accelerated, yield raising variant of farming. The very things that those techniques were supposed to address were increased yields, pest resistance, etc. "Organic" farming as we know it now was previously largely known as "farming". Obviously the results are not at all surprising, but there is a very sinister underlying rhetoric here. Fill in the blank: Study sponsored by: ________

  • by n1ywb ( 555767 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:59PM (#39813091) Homepage Journal
    This isn't really news, organic farmers have always known this. Anyway conventional ag has problems too. Pesticides poison bees and us. Fertilizer comes from petroleum. GMO crops, Monsanto, etc. Organics are also closely connected to sustainability which is the idea that intensive factory farming just can't go on forever so we'd damn well better figure out another way to feed ourselves.

    If I were king I'd start by banning suburbs built on arable land. I'd also suggest that certain groups stop producing so many offspring.

  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:59PM (#39813093)
    I believe the point of organic farming is to minimize the negative externalities of "conventional" (I would say "industrial") farming, such as water pollution. If you have to plant 34% more acres to avoid poisoning a major river, I and many others would call that a win.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @05:59PM (#39813097)

    We could stop throwing away over 1/3 of our food, grow less beef cattle, and reduce our use of non-food agriculture like tobacco and ethanol (as a side note, we could stop using so much high fructose corn syrup too) and then maybe we'd actually be able to produce a decent amount of healthy organic food for the world. Personal and community gardens could lighten the load, as well as urban farming. It seems to me that its not the yield that we should worry about, rather the efficiency of use.

  • by eepok ( 545733 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:04PM (#39813171) Homepage

    "Organic" farming is not good in and of itself. It's better at preventing the consumption of toxic chemicals, it's more environmentally sound, and it's also more economically just (because "organic" foods are not copyrighted).

    Since we can't feed the planet on organics, but we want all the benefits of organics, we need to change the way do make, use, and "protect" conventional crops. That means federal funding to develop non-copyrighted crops and promote biodiversity regardless of within organic and modified foods.

    The lesson: instead of replacing modern modified foods with organics, bring modified foods up to the ethical and environmental standards of organic foods.

  • No, organic loose even then.

    It's about yield. How much of the product can you resell per acre.

    Much of the energy that goes into organic farming is the same per acre as regular farming(i.e. safer farming).

    Organic farms are full of sloppy techniques, magical thinking, and poor quality product.

    GM crops is conventional agriculture, and the worst way to help feed the people on the planet is organic farming.

    If that energy was put towards vertical farming, we would be a lot better off.

  • by MetalliQaZ ( 539913 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:10PM (#39813235)

    The point of organic farming is to grow safe food. Prices are higher because farming is a business, but it isn't the primary motivation. Obviously industrial farming has higher margins, which is why almost all "normal" food is grown that way.


  • by MetalliQaZ ( 539913 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:11PM (#39813247)

    Yes, it's sad that children in economically depressed regions are starving so please avoid predicating an argument from that premise alone.

    That isn't enough?

  • by Dr Caleb ( 121505 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:15PM (#39813291) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if the authors of the study get the point of Organic Farming?

    It's not about yield, it's about removing the potentially allergenic and toxic substances in our food chain that modern farming uses from the land, air and water around us.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:20PM (#39813343)

    If you have to deforest 34% more acres to avoid poisoning a major river, I and many others would call that a complicated issue.

    You can't pick and choose your externalities. Reduced yields mean more land needs to be cultivated to feed an expanding population. The best agricultural land is already in use, that means we need to push into more marginal areas that require more inputs (or just flat produce less) or chop down forests.

    Deforestation puts pressures on animal populations and is one of the greatest contributors to global warming.

  • Re:Oh really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:20PM (#39813349)

    I agree it's not surprising, but without studying it, it's at least theoretically possible that the gap could've been a cost rather than yield one, i.e. that organic methods could match pesticide-using methods in output, but only at higher expense. That would stil explain why conventional farming uses pesticides, if it lowered costs. What it looks like this study shows is that the yields can't match even ignoring price (though they can sometimes get close).

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater.gmail@com> on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:28PM (#39813443) Homepage

    I find the rhetorical twist here interesting: "conventional farming" is now the artificially accelerated, yield raising variant of farming.

    And has been ever since we started artificially restoring fertility and raising yield - I.E. whenever we started using manure and night soil, then added crop rotation, phosphate (guano), liming fields, etc...

    "Organic" farming as we know it now was previously largely known as "farming".

    No it wasn't.
    The one spinning and redefining here is you - because you're artificially walling off a host a practices dating back millenia as 'organic' rather than recognizing them for what they are.

  • by poity ( 465672 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:33PM (#39813527)

    Conventional means the commonly accepted method. In the case of contemporary farming practice, the use of pesticides and chemically derived fertilizers is indeed conventional. It seems to me like you may have confused the meaning of "conventional" with that of "traditional", and indeed you are correct in pointing out that what is "organic farming" today was just "farming" in the past, but that would nonetheless make it traditional rather than conventional.

    In short, that was stormy rant born of a vocabulary deficiency. Sinister? Sheesh, the Slashdot melodrama these days...

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @06:57PM (#39813823)

    I believe that the AC was pointing out the irony of calling modern chemical based farming (inorganic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) "conventional" farming when it has only come into common use during the past century (inorganic chemical nitrogen fixation started in 1903 with improvements through 1920). Farming prior to this chemical age (and still in many "underdeveloped" countries) was organic and uses organic fertilizers, etc. Organic farmers use organic fertilizer and other techniques such as crop rotation.
    Inorganic farming using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is a modern aberration with many acknowledged ill effects on the environment and decreasing quality of food.

  • Re:Ummm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:02PM (#39813897) Homepage Journal

    TFS and TFA mention that organic farms are often larger, but didn't say WHY. Part of the answer is lower yield/area and the rest is no bill for pesticides and roundup/area.

  • Re:Ummm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cyachallenge ( 2521604 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:09PM (#39813991)
    You know what's absurd? It's common place to call industrialised farming "conventional". Spraying crops with tons of pesticides that produce "edible" goods. Instead of producing a product that actually helps the environment, they use Government money (subsidizing) to lower the price of the "conventional" and industrialized methods. Calling them cheaper, rather than realizing the total cost includes the money given to the corporations by the government itself. Even if the company is not given money directly, it uses cheap foodstock (corn) which itself is given money.

    It's been shown time and time again that these pesticides produce health issues in animals and people. For example Round-up, the scientific research finds that the pesticide "additives" primarily cause the issue rather than the pesticide itself.

    Because the pesticide in-itself doesn't cause issues, they simply formulate a new chemicle makeup to circumvent the regulations. Which in turn often comes up as toxic. So Monsanto can simply sidestep an environmental issue by changing the formula without producing positive evidence that the new product is safe. Monsanto makes billions while environmental concerns are simply thrown away.
  • by Crudely_Indecent ( 739699 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:09PM (#39814001) Journal

    While a valid aspect of organic farming, you miss one of the key reasons many choose to go organic - food quality.

    While it's possible using "conventional" farming methods to get a lot of yield, what is the nutritional value of the yield - what about the flavor?

    Try this when you have some time - get some tomatos from your local grocery store - then get some from a local organic grower. My personal experience is that the grocery store tomatos remind me of eating water balloons while organic tomatos are an explosion of flavor. I haven't done the research to prove this, but I would be willing to believe that the nutritional value of the store bought tomatos is very low when compared to organically grown tomatos.

    I don't buy tomatos from the store - 10 plants in my garden supply all that I need and more.

  • by j00r0m4nc3r ( 959816 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:14PM (#39814065)
    GM crops is conventional agriculture, and the worst way to help feed the people on the planet is organic farming.

    Wow, I would love for you to cite a reference for this. Oh wait, you can't, because it's some random opinion you've come up with from the depths of your ignorance. If by "worst way" you mean it's the worst for the chemical companies, then yes. But if by "worst way" you actually mean the worst way, then nothing could be farther from the truth. Conventional farming techniques ultimately render soil infertile and devoid of organic matter, not to mention all the diseases and pests that they strengthen through the use of pesticides. As of now, there is nothing more sustainable than organic farming, and this may not be important to you, but you can bet it will be important to your grandkids...
  • Re:Ummm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cyachallenge ( 2521604 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @07:30PM (#39814291)
    Not to mention the money spent to resolve countless crowding issues esp. in beef and pork. The problems caused by antibiotic overuse and buildup of pesticides. Then there's research that has to be done to change pesticide formulas. We just recently had an article that explained insects are gaining an adaption to the chemicals through symbiosis of bacteria who can metabolize the pesticides. All of this needs to be factored in.

    Overfarming land for the sake of higher yield requires a great many natural resources in order to accomplish said yields. Water for example, instead of using sustainable methods can lead to shortages that have to be resolved. Then there's run-off waste by the pig farms which is dumped into rivers, where organic farms can simply use it as fertilizer because they aren't nearly as packed together.

    Simple agriculture and meat "yields" need to take into account all of these repercussions of industrialized crowding and intensive farming which are not a factor in organic goods.
  • by gumpish ( 682245 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @08:50PM (#39815199) Journal

    Maybe we should work on reducing demand instead of pumping our food supply full of unnatural garbage to meet the needs of an unsustainable global population.

  • by Z34107 ( 925136 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @09:50PM (#39815799)

    It stands to reason that any increase in food production will lead to an increase in the total human population, which directly recreates the problem in a worse way for the next generation

    I believe it was Gandhi who said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." So go kill yourself.

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Thursday April 26, 2012 @10:09PM (#39816001)

    Production costs for so-called "conventional" farming have high negative externalities--costs that are simply not captured in a yield-per-acre formula, or even a yield-per-dollar forumula.

    Which makes this metastudy not particularly useful or meaningful, because without some way of assessing those costs, we don't have enough information to know what is better.

  • "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,"

    I can tell you've never been homeless and jobless before. Your entitlement fucking reeks from over here, and your ignorance screams just as loudly.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors