30-year Study Shows Organic Outperforms Conventional
Scientific side-by-side comparisons in the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST) over 30 years has provided clear evidence that organic agriculture is far superior to conventional systems. The FST is the longest running, side-by-side comparison of organic and chemical agriculture in the United States.
Throughout its long history, the FST has contained three core farming systems, each of which features diverse management practices: a manure-based organic system, a legume-based organic system, and a synthetic input-based conventional system. In the past three years of the trial, genetically modified (GM) crops (as a component of the conventional system) and no-till treatments were incorporated to better represent current farming trends in the United States.
Key findings over the period of the FST include:
* Organic yields match conventional yields
* Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought
* Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system
* Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient
* Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases
* Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional
The scientists conclude that for soil health alone, organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional as it is much better at building, maintaining and replenishing the health of the soil. When one also considers yields, economic viability, energy usage, and human health, it’s clear that organic farming is sustainable, while current conventional practices are not.
The FST also puts to rest one persistent myth, that organic agriculture cannot match the yields of conventional agriculture. After an initial decline in yields during the first few years of transition, the organic system soon rebounded to match or surpass the conventional system. Importantly, given climate change, organic crops were shown to be more resilient, giving higher yields than conventional crops during droughts.
More information is available at http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years
With best wishes,
Study debunks myths on organic farms
By Paul Hanley, Special to The StarPhoenix September 27, 2011
The results are in from a 30-year side-by-side trial of conventional and organic farming methods at Pennsylvania's Rodale Institute. Contrary to conventional wisdom, organic farming outperformed conventional farming in every measure.
There are about 1,500 organic farmers in Saskatchewan, at last count. They eschew the synthetic fertilizers and toxic sprays that are the mainstay of conventional farms. Study after study indicates the conventional thinking on farming - that we have to tolerate toxic chemicals because organic farming can't feed the world - is wrong.
In fact, studies like the Rodale trials (www.rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years) show that after a three-year transition period, organic yields equalled conventional yields. What is more, the study showed organic crops were more resilient. Organic corn yields were 31 per cent higher than conventional in years of drought.
These drought yields are remarkable when compared to genetically modified (GM) "drought tolerant" varieties, which showed increases of only 6.7 per cent to 13.3 per cent over conventional (non-drought resistant) varieties.
More important than yield, from the farmer's perspective, is income, and here organic is clearly superior. The 30-year comparison showed organic systems were almost three times as profitable as the conventional systems. The average net return for the organic systems was $558/acre/ year versus just $190/acre/year for the conventional systems. The much higher income reflects the premium organic farmers receive and consumers pay for.
But even without a price premium, the Rodale study found organic systems are competitive with the conventional systems because of marginally lower input costs.
The most profitable grain crop was the organically grown wheat netting $835/acre/year. Interestingly, no-till conventional corn was the least profitable, netting just $27/acre/year. The generally poor showing of GM crops was striking; it echoed a study from the University of Minnesota that found farmers who cultivated GM varieties earned less money over a 14-year period than those who continued to grow non-GM crops.
Importantly, the Rodale study, which started in 1981, found organic farming is more sustainable than conventional systems. They found, for example, that:
* Organic systems used 45 per cent less energy than conventional.
* Production efficiency was 28 per cent higher in the organic systems, with the conventional no-till system being the least efficient in terms of energy usage.
* Soil health in the organic systems has increased over time while the conventional systems remain essentially unchanged. One measure of soil health is the amount of carbon contained in the soil. Carbon performs many crucial functions: acting as a reservoir of plant nutrients, binding soil particles together, maintaining soil temperature, providing a food source for microbes, binding heavy metals and pesticides, and influencing water holding capacity and aeration. The trials compared different types of organic and conventional systems; carbon increase was highest in the organic manure system, followed by the organic legume system. The conventional system has shown a loss in carbon in recent years.
* Organic fields increased groundwater recharge and reduced run-off. Water volumes percolating through the soil were 15-20 per cent higher in the organic systems. Rather than running off the surface and taking soil with it, rainwater recharged groundwater reserves in the organic systems, with minimal erosion.
Organic farming also helps sustain rural communities by creating more jobs; a UN study shows organic farms create 30 per cent more jobs per hectare than nonorganic. More of the money in organic farming goes to paying local people, rather than to farm inputs.
With results like these, why does conventional wisdom favour chemical farming? Vested interests. Organic farming keeps more money on the farm and in rural communities and out of the pockets of chemical companies. As the major funders of research centres and universities, and major advertisers in the farm media, they effectively buy a pro-chemical bias.
Still, the global food security community, which focuses on poor farmers in developing countries, is shifting to an organic approach. Numerous independent studies show that small scale, organic farming is the best option for feeding the world now and in the future. In fact, agroecological farming methods, including organic farming, could double global food production in just 10 years, according to one UN report.
Organic trumps conventional farming in Rodale Institute's 30-year study
Caren Baginski, newhope360
Oct. 5, 2011 12:12pm
It's official: Organic farming outperforms conventional, chemical farming when it comes to crop yields, sustainability and profit. The evidence is found in Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial, the longest-running scientific comparison of organic and conventional agriculture, celebrating its 30th year in 2011.
The study targets large-scale grain growers and includes three crops: corn, soybean and wheat. (As of 2008, genetically modified corn and soybean were introduced into the study to better assess the landscape of American agriculture.) Then-CEO Robert Rodale's vision was to assess high-acreage crops to make growers aware that they were being led down the pathway to less money by using pesticides, said Elaine Ingham, chief scientist for Rodale Institute.
Unlike many organic and conventional farming comparison studies, the Farming Systems Trial is scientifically rigorous to ensure an accurate representation of farming practices. The study includes four replications (repeating the study using the same methods but with different researchers) for each of the four different management systems: organic manure, organic legume, conventional synthetic (the majority of the grain farms in the U.S.) and no-till systems.
The study's conventional plots are immediately adjacent to the organic plots, so both experience the same soil types and weather patterns. Also, the now-organic plots began as conventional and have been remediated over time. To dispel any organic bias, Ingham said the farmers involved in the study are veterans of farming with chemicals, and the study's advisory committee contains members who are strongly entrenched in chemical agriculture.
Over three decades, the study has yielded eye-opening results for conventional farmers:
* An organic farmer can expect to earn double (on less land) than a chemical farmer, whose money goes mostly into the pocket of the chemical companies upon which he or she is dependent. "That divergence is only going to get bigger," Ingham said, as the demand for organic grows. Plus, it's a myth that GM means using fewer pesticides, she said. The study showed GM crop farmers typically ended up using more herbicides, making it more expensive to go GM than if they had stayed with heritage crops.
* Organic and conventional crop yields were equivalent throughout the trial, except organic corn yields were 31 percent higher than conventional in years of drought. Ironically, the GM "drought-tolerant" corn only increased 7 percent to 13 percent over its conventional (non-drought resistant) varieties.
* Organic farming uses 45 percent less energy than conventional systems, while conventional systems produce 40 percent more greenhouse gases. The largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions on conventional systems are nitrogen fertilizer production and fuel use, while organic systems that build—rather than deplete—soil quality are more efficient to manage, leading to less fuel use.
Charles Benbrook, PhD, chief scientist at The Organic Center in Boulder, Colo., said the study "already has a big impact on what scientists think about sustainable and organic cropping systems. Whether it's had a big impact on drawing conventional farmers into organic is in the eye of the beholder."
While the study may not shift the mindset of those already invested in Big Ag, Ingham hopes it will change consumers' minds. "What we're really doing this work for is to change the mind of the individual who eats food," she said. "As a consumer, you vote with your dollars. What are you going to choose to buy? That's where we'll make the difference.