RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—We've been led to believe that huge, assembly-line megafarms are needed to feed the world's growing population. In the fields, these farms are often propped up by the use of chemical fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and toxic chemical pesticides. In meat and poultry production, these "efficient" factory farms rely on things like arsenic and antibiotics, and create massive quantities of animal waste. Now, a new analysis looking at more than 100 published studies finds that industrial ag's claims of efficiency are actually not legit. In fact, researchers found organic farming to be the more efficient process, with similar yields and far fewer emissions of climate-change-inducing greenhouse gases. Scientists are linking stronger, more devastating storms, floods, and drought to climate change, meaning agriculture has the potential to play a key role in mitigating the problem. "These findings shake up the concept that 'bigger' is always better...bigger equipment, less genetic diversity, and more fertilizer and pesticides do not equal a more energy-efficient operation," Rod MacRae, assistant professor in the department of environmental studies at Toronto's York University, said in a statement.
THE DETAILS: The Canadian study, "The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World?" appeared in the journal Sustainability. To figure out which farming system tends to be more efficient in terms of energy use and climate change potential, researchers analyzed 130 studies to figure out energy use on a per-hectare and per-product basis. Organic systems came out on top, except in fruit farming and poultry production, where data is insufficient.
And the argument that industrial ag produces more food? "Many regions in the global south show better yield performance with organic farming," MacRae says. "Even in North America, organic yields are not far behind conventional ones.”
Research performed over the last several decades at the Rodale Institute, an organic research farm in eastern Pennsylvania, has also found that organic yields are similar to crops grown with chemicals. In fact, organic yields tend to be higher in years of drought because the healthier soil is better able to reserve water.
In the Canadian study, researchers point to huge waste in conventional systems as one of the reasons they are less efficient than organic. Researchers note that 40 percent of what's farmed never makes it to our mouths. Part of that loss comes during harvest, processing, and distribution.
Published on: June 15, 2011
Updated on: June 16, 2011