Organic agriculture comes up trumps in US research

US research has concluded that organic agriculture will be an important resource in facing challenges such as climate change.

That is the conclusion of a US doctoral thesis, which reviewed 40 years of science comparing the long-term prospects of organic and conventional farming.

According to John Reganold, Regents Professor of Soil Science & Agroecology at Washington State University, hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic agriculture can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment, and be safer for farm workers.

The results, which looked at several factors of sustainability, showed that the gap between yields of the two systems is closing and organic crops are more resilient to weather extremes, thanks to their better soil health.

Reganold published his findings, made with his doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter, on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ online science network, where it said he had spent more than 30 years bringing innovative research and teaching on sustainable farming systems into the mainstream of higher education and food production.

“It’s true that organic farming produces lower yields, averaging 10 to 20% less than conventional,” Reganold said.

“Proponents contend that the environmental advantages of organic agriculture far outweigh the lower yields, and that increasing research and breeding resources for organic systems would reduce the yield gap.”

However, in some case, such as drought, he said organic yields can be higher than conventional farming.

Despite lower yields in most cases, Reganold said organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more.

In addition, he said that organic farms overall tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality, and reduce soil erosion, compared to their conventional counterparts. Organic agriculture also creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“Governments should focus on creating policies that help develop not just organic but also other innovative and more sustainable farming systems.”

Reganold stated that agricultural policies need to:

  • Offer greater financial incentives for farmers to adopt conservation measures and scientifically sound sustainable, organic, and integrated crop or livestock production practices.
  • Expand outreach and technical assistance that will provide farmers with better information about these transformative practices.
  • Increase publicly funded research to improve and expand modern sustainable farming.