With the recent meeting of world leaders at Copenhagen the debate over climate change inevitably included discussion of the ever growing population and the importance of farmers to feed the world. And intensive organic small farms are leading the way!
Governments and leading research bodies, which by the way are heavily funded by companies such as Monsanto and other agribusiness conglomerates, do not support the organic movement or small farms. Most of the funding for research is spent on new products to demonstrate how they ‘improve’ performance in the short term rather than looking at the long term approach and this includes genetically modified organisms. Their lack of support for organics is not surprising however as organic farming finds little need for their ‘improved’ products. Therefore organic farming is dismissed.
Dennis Avery, an economist at the Hudson Institute — funded by Monsanto, Du Pont, Dow, and Novartis among others — had this to say in an ABC News’ 20/20 broadcast. “If overnight all our food supply were suddenly organic, to feed today’s population we’d have plowed down half of the world’s land area not under ice to get organic food… because organic farmers waste so much land. They have to because they lose so much of their crop to weeds and insects.” This untruth has been parroted by others both before and ever since.
However many studies show that organic farming methods can produce higher yields than conventional methods. Moreover, a worldwide conversion to organic has the potential to increase food production levels — not to mention reversing the degradation of agricultural soils and increase soil fertility and health. Many studies such at Rodale Institute show that organic farming does not result in catastrophic crop losses due to pests or in dramatically reduced yields.
On the contrary, organic farming systems have proven that they can prevent crop loss to pests without any synthetic pesticides. They are able to maintain high yields, comparable to conventional agriculture without any of the associated external costs to society. Furthermore, organic and biological farming methods continually increase soil fertility and prevent loss of topsoil to erosion, while conventional methods have the opposite effect.
Some time ago a comparison was made of conventional and organic commercial tomato farms in California. Tomato yields were shown to be quite similar in organic and conventional farms. Insect pest damage was also comparable however, significant differences were found in soil health indicators such as nitrogen mineralization potential and microbial abundance and diversity which were higher in the organic farms. Nitrogen mineralization potential was three times greater in organic compared to conventional fields. The organic fields also had 28% more organic carbon. The increased soil health in the organic farms resulted in considerably lower disease incidence. Severity of the most prevalent disease in the study, tomato corky root disease, was found to be significantly lower in the organic farms
The ability of organic agriculture to produce comparable yields is particularly significant, considering that limited research has been conducted in universities and bodies such as CSIRO to optimize cultural practices or select for suitable crop genetic traits in organic farming systems. It is becoming imperative that we move away from organic versus conventional systems comparisons, to research into ways of improving organic farming methods. In the end, only a conversion to organic farming will allow us to maintain and even increase current crop yields.