New Study Sheds Light On Debate Over Organic Vs. Conventional Agriculture
Can organic agriculture feed the world? Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers at McGill University and the University of Minnesota.
A new study published in Nature concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet — yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.
The study, which represents a comprehensive analysis of the current scientific literature on organic-to-conventional yield comparisons, aims to shed light on the often heated debate over organic versus conventional farming. Some people point to conventional agriculture as a big environmental threat that undercuts biodiversity and water resources, while releasing greenhouse gases. Others argue that large-scale organic farming would take up more land and make food unaffordable for most of the world’s poor and hungry.
“To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques — including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems — to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture,” the researchers conclude.
Overall, organic yields are 25% lower than conventional, the study finds. The difference varies widely across crop types and species, however. Yields of legumes and perennials (such as soybeans and fruits), for example, are much closer to those of conventional crops, according to the study, conducted by doctoral student Verena Seufert and Geography professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill and Prof. Jonathan Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
What’s more, when best management practices are used for organic crops, overall yields are just 13% lower than conventional levels. “These results suggest that today’s organic systems may nearly rival conventional yields in some cases — with particular crop types, growing conditions and management practices — but often they do not,” the researchers write. Improvements in organic management techniques, or adoption of organic agriculture under environmental conditions where it performs best, may help close the yield gap, they indicate.
via Science Dailyᔥ
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