Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land—according to new findings which refute the long-standing assumption that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population.
In addition to equal or greater yields, it was found that those yields could be accomplished using existing quantities of organic fertilizers, and without putting more farmland into production.
Researchers were struck by how much food the organic farmers would produce. The researchers set about compiling data from published literature to investigate the two chief objections to organic farming: low yields and lack of organically acceptable nitrogen sources.
The findings refute those arguments, and confirm that organic farming is less environmentally harmful yet can potentially produce more than enough food. This is especially good news for developing countries, where it’s sometimes impossible to deliver food from outside, so farmers must supply their own. Yields in developing countries could increase dramatically by switching to organic farming, Perfecto said.
While that seems counterintuitive, it makes sense because in developing countries, many farmers still do not have the access to the expensive fertilizers and pesticides that farmers use in developed countries to produce those high yields, she said.
After comparing yields of organic and convention farms, the researchers looked at nitrogen availability. To do so, they multiplied the current farm land area by the average amount of nitrogen available for production crops if so-called “green manures” were planted between growing seasons. Green manures are cover crops which are plowed into the soil to provide natural soil amendments instead of synthetic fertilizers. They found that planting green manures between growing seasons provided enough nitrogen to farm organically without synthetic fertilizers.
Organic farming is important because conventional agriculture—which involves high-yielding plants, mechanized tillage, synthetic fertilizers and biocides—is so detrimental to the environment. For instance, fertilizer runoff from conventional agriculture is the chief culprit in creating dead zones—low oxygen areas where marine life cannot survive. Proponents of organic farming argue that conventional farming also causes soil erosion, greenhouse gas emission, increased pest resistance and loss of biodiversity.
For their analysis, researchers defined the term organic as: practices referred to as sustainable or ecological; that utilize non-synthetic nutrient cycling processes; that exclude or rarely use synthetic pesticides; and sustain or regenerate the soil quality.
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