Friday, November 25, 2011

Studies show organic farming makes economic and environmental sense over the long term

"Organic crop systems can provide similar yields and much higher economic returns than a conventional corn-soybean rotation," because they "fetch a premium price on the market and eliminate the need for expensive inputs like herbicides and synthetic fertilizers," researchers at Iowa State University announced this week after 13 years of comparison at the university farm. And they noted a longer study elsewhere that showed similar results.

ISU's Long-Term Agroecological Research Experiment "is one of the longest running replicated comparisons in the country," a university news release said. “The transitioning years are the hardest years,” said Professor Kathleen Delate, who leads the project. "To sell a product as organic, the crop must be raised on land that has received no synthetic chemicals for three years prior to harvest," the release notes. But the study showed organic crops "can remain competitive with conventional crops even during the three-year transition."

The study resulted in yields of organic corn, soybean and oats "equivalent to or slightly greater than their conventional counterparts," averaged over 13 years, the release said. "Likewise, a 12-year average for alfalfa and an 8-year average for winter wheat also show no significant difference between organic yields and the Adair County average."

“I think there’s a strong future for organic agriculture,” Delate said. “My phone is ringing off the hook.” The economic side of the study was led by Craig Chase, an extension farm management specialist. He found that "organic systems return roughly $200 per acre more than conventional crops," the release said. "In addition to its profitability, organic agriculture helps build healthy soils."

But how do organic farmers control weeds? With “a whole suite of practices,” including timely tillage and longer crop rotations, Delate said. "Chemicals from rye and alfalfa help keep weed populations under control, as does growing an alfalfa cover crop in winter, which provided cover for beneficial insects and animals," the release said.

The findings concur with those seen over 30 years in Pennsylvania by the Rodale Institute, which "calculated that organic crops required 45 percent less energy, and contributed significantly less to greenhouse gas emissions," the Iowa State release said. For that study, click here. A brochure about the Iowa project can be downloaded here.

Rick Rojas of the Los Angeles Times reports on World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, "a loose global network that hooks up those willing to work with farmers eager to take them for a few weeks, or even a few months."

No comments: