New Rodale Institute Study Reveals Organic Farming System Yields 30 Percent Less Food than Conventional System

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Organic farming canÂ?t compete against the newest biotech farming systems.

A recent press release from Cornell University claims that a new study demonstrates that “organic farms produce same yields as conventional farms.” The abstract to the new paper states that one of the benefits of organic are “yields similar to those of conventional systems.”

Detailed examination of the study reveals the conventional farm system would yield 30 percent more grain over 30 years compared to the organic system.

The research, by David Pimentel and researchers at the organic Rodale Institute, reveals that the food production deficit of the organic farming system is a result of needing to devote time and land to growing organic fertilizer rather than food.

As the authors put it, while “yields per ha between organic and conventional corn for grain may be similar within a given year,” the “organic grain rotation required a legume cover crop before the corn. This was established after the wheat harvest. Thus, corn was grown 60 percent of the time in the conventional rotation, but only 33 percent of the time in the organic rotation…The reduced amount of corn grown in the organic rotation is partly compensated for with the additional crop of wheat.”

Under the study parameters, the conventional system would yield three corn crops and two soybean crops over five years, whereas the organic system would yield one corn crop, a single soybean crop, and one wheat crop over three years.

Using yield data reported in this new paper, over 30 years the conventional system would yield 132,000 pounds of grain per acre. In comparison, using the organic corn and soybean data presented in this paper and wheat yield data from the Rodale Institute’s website (as these data are not reported in the paper), the organic farm system would yield only 101,600 pounds of grain per acre over 30 years. In other words, the conventional farm system would yield 30 percent more than the organic system.

As important, the Rodale research shows that:

-- nitrogen losses to the environment are the same between organic and conventional systems, contrary to widespread claims that organic farming reduces nutrient pollution

-- the organic system lost 32 percent of the nitrogen added to its system compared to only 20 percent for the conventional, demonstrating greater nitrogen use efficiency in the conventional system

-- organic system required 35 percent more labor

-- contrary to claims made in the paper, no evidence is given to support claims of lower soil erosion in the organic system

Critically, the Rodale research does not compare organic farming to the latest no- and low-tillage farming systems increasingly adopted by non-organic farmers with the advent of herbicide-tolerant biotech crops. These no- and low-tillage farming systems reduce soil loss rates to near zero and improve soil quality, porosity, and water-holding capacity.

Thus, the Rodale research is a comparison of the best organic system versus dated conventional farming methods.

Claims of equal yields by organic researchers and organic groups must be analyzed in the context of the whole farm and when this is done, no organic farming system has ever shown equal food production.

Contact: Alex Avery

Center for Global Food Issues

Phone: 540-337-6354


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Alex Avery
Center for Global Food Issues
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