Battlepanda: Organic farming for efficiency


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Organic farming for efficiency

When people think 'organic' they probaby think of a chi-chi yuppie lifestyle choice. But is it possible that organic farms are, in the long run, more efficient than conventional farms? This is what a 22-year study by Cornell University suggests.
The study compared a conventional farm that used recommended fertilizer and pesticide applications with an organic animal-based farm (where manure was applied) and an organic legume-based farm (that used a three-year rotation of hairy vetch/corn and rye/soybeans and wheat). The two organic systems received no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. [snip]
"First and foremost, we found that corn and soybean yields were the same across the three systems," said Pimentel, who noted that although organic corn yields were about one-third lower during the first four years of the study, over time the organic systems produced higher yields, especially under drought conditions. The reason was that wind and water erosion degraded the soil on the conventional farm while the soil on the organic farms steadily improved in organic matter, moisture, microbial activity and other soil quality indicators.
An organic farm, the study found, required 15% more labor input as well as more rest between productive years. But the payoff is a 30% decrease in fossil fuel imputs and decreased environmental externalities such as fertilizer runoff. Given the surfeit of agricultural land in the U.S. and the increasingly high costs of oil, it seems that environmental and economic factors are converging to make organic farming in corn and soybeans an inevitable trend if sanity prevails. That's a big if...

(Via Dymaxion World. By the way, we're talking cereal and legume crops here, not grapes or apples or other intensive crops. Organically farming those prima donnas seems to involve a lot of coddling and heartache, from what I can gather.)