The Future's Bright, The Future's Organic

December 2nd, 2011 No Comments   Posted in Organic

Article by Kieron McFadden

How does organic farming measure up against conventional farming in terms of yield? Pretty well actually.

In response to the continued growth in popularity of the organic food, one of the “reasons” put forward for not switching to organic farming, is that such a major transition to organic methods would result in decreased yields and this would lead to catastrophic food shortages.

This assertion was based on data collected over a number of years that suggest that organic yields of a range of crops and animal products were less than their conventional counterparts. However, that data, much of it old, did not take into account the fact that a transition to organic farming is almost certain to be a matter of evolution, rather than a sudden overnight thing and that organic farming meanwhile is coming along in leaps and bounds and improving efficiency and know-how all the time.

Behind conventional farming there is a considerable track of experience, a massive industrial complex of interwoven industries and untold billions in investment. Considering that it manages with a much more modest investment of money and resources, research facilities and government help, the organic industry has not done badly at all and is continuing to do better, so much so that in terms of yield per acre, it is starting to get ahead of conventional farming! So not only does organic farming produce comparable or even better yields, it does so with less harm to the environment and produces food of higher quality, less compromised by contaminants and better for human health!

As I pointed out, with about 98% of agriculture considered “conventional,” a sudden jump to organic production is not going to happen, much as one would like it to. A steady evolution in the direction of organic is on the cards and our only hope is that it will be fast enough to stave off some major calamity with the environment and/or the food chain that definitely IS on the cards if we do not mend our ways. Some assistance from government would help – after all it is the survival and health of its citizens that are at stake and one would think that that, and not the welfare of the shareholders of some Food Giant, that would be its primary concern.

Of course, with things as they are now, if we tried to switch en masse to wholly organic farming by next Tuesday we would have trouble. Additionally, it is in the interests of those with a huge stake in the conventional paradigm that such alarmist notions of food shortages and starvation are bandied about as it discourages people from thinking about change to a world in which organic farming – and better food – is dominant.

I am reminded of the story of the bloke who, back in seventeen-hundred-and-something, claimed that the early and relatively crude version of our modern safety match would never catch on as a means of lighting fires as it was “too incendiary” and “too dangerous.” Turns out he owned the biggest flint quarry in England.

As regards organic methods improving and beginning to match and out-do conventional methods, one can check out by way of example, the Long Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) site in Greenfield, Iowa. There corn and soybeans are the organic crops attracting the most interest along with in the yields of organic wheat, alfalfa, oats, red clover and rye, which are improving.

This 12-year experiment reflects in microcosm the experience of larger scale organic producers and during the experiment great care was taken to eliminate bias and factors that might confuse the results.

Typical of results that were obtained in fields undergoing a transition to organic, organic corn yields were less than conventional during the first two years but by the third year organic and conventional corn yields were about equal and in the fourth year organic corn yields averaged 130 bushels per acre compared with the conventional corn yield of 112 bushels per acre.

Similarly, the relative yields of organic and conventional soybeans were similar in the first few years, the years of transition, and by the fourth year, the organic soybean yield was 45 bushels per acre compared with the conventional yield of 40 bushels per acre. Over 12 years of the experiment, the average conventional corn yield was 171 bushels per acre and 163 bushels per acre for organic.

Apparently however, if the transition period is eliminated from the averages, the conventional and organic yields were statistically identical at 172 bushels per acre for corn and 47 bushels per acre for soybeans.

Looking at the economics of production, even during the first two years of organic transition, the average production costs for conventional corn-soybean production were approximately $ 50 per acre HIGHER than the average organic costs. Evidently, the lower costs of organic production were due to the absence of expensive petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides). It was found that, on average, organic crops returned DOUBLE the revenue of conventional crops over the duration of the experiment.

This thorough, long-term experiment provides evidence that the giants of conventional production perhaps do not want to hear; that yields of organic corn and soybeans compare very favourably with those grown using conventional methods.

However, there are two other factors that the experiment did not take into account and which make the case for a transition to organic farming even more compelling.

The first is that the raw data of yields of so many bushels per acre do not take into account the QUALITY of what was produced. Organic food is richer in nutrients that conventionally farmed food. We eat food for the nutrients it contains and if we can get the same amount of nutrients from eating one organic apple compared to, say, three apples grown using conventional methods, we actually need to buy and eat less organic apples to be well fed and healthy! Therefore, it is arguable that the NUTRIENT yield per acre of organic food is considerably superior to that of conventional crops.

The second is that the comparable organic yield and superior nutrient yield is achieved WITHOUT contaminating with toxins (industrial pesticides and so forth), the food itself or the soil in which it grows or the general environment.

In addition, as organic food is rich in nutrition and free of contaminants it causes none of the mental and physical illnesses that derive from toxins entering the bodies of those who eat it and from deficiencies in vitamins, trace minerals and so forth. A healthier population would require less medication in the form of drugs, which will reduce dependency and addiction and the incidence of further illness deriving from the harm done to the body by the drugs.

Therefore, the provision of wholesome organic food, as a human right, to the general population will see a saving on the overall healthcare bill, days of production lost to illness and so on and thus the tax burden.

Like it says in the title:

The future’s bright. The future’s organic.

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