Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Protagonists of Organic foods make some claims which are difficult to be sustained based on science. One such claim is regarding yield of crops from normal soil when organic farming system is deployed. But the latest studies carried out in the US do indicate that yields can be equal to or greater than under traditional agriculture using chemical fertilizers, high levels of water and application of pesticides. This long term study spread over 30 years deserves attention by planners and farmers while deciding about any strategy to evolve sustainable agriculture in the coming years. Here is a report about the significance of this study for the long term future of the planet.

"Rodale Institute today announces the latest results of the Farming Systems Trial, America's longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming practices. Originally created to study the transition from conventional to organic production, this 30-year study also examined productivity, soil quality, energy and economics. Key findings show:

-- Organic yields match or surpass conventional yields.
-- Organic yields outperform conventional yields in years of drought.
-- Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
-- Organic farming uses 45 percent less energy and is more efficient.
-- Conventional agricultural systems produce 40 percent more greenhouse gases.
-- Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional farming systems.

After 30 years of a rigorous side-by-side comparison, the Rodale Institute confidently concludes that organic methods are improving the quality of our food, the health of our soils and water, and the conditions of our nation's rural areas. Organic agriculture creates more jobs, provides a livable income for farmers, and can restore America's confidence in our farming community and food system. "America's farming techniques affect the health of our families, our communities, and our planet. The Farming Systems Trial shows that organic farming is the healthiest and safest way to feed the world, provide much-needed jobs, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and protect precious natural resources," says Mark "Coach" Smallwood, Executive Director of Rodale Institute. "The Farming Systems Trial clearly documents in a replicated, scientific fashion, that many of the current myths are not true. Organic agriculture does not result in the grower losing money, does not result in lower yields, or more expensive management practices," says Dr. Elaine Ingham, Chief Scientist at Rodale Institute. "The next step forward is to educate growers, whether they are conventional or organic, in the methods used in the Farming Systems Trial to assure equal or better yields through farming practices that do not harm the environment." The trial is slated to continue with a new focus on nutrition and human health. "We have shown that organic can feed the world. Now it is time to take on the matter of feeding the world well," said Smallwood".

One of the significant findings is that unlike the input intensive conventional agriculture, organic system does not destroy the soil health that enables the farmer to continuously use the land for many many years. Also notable is the relatively less carbon emission reported under organic cultivation mode. While it is agreed that farmers are well advised to replace their conventional practices with organic production system, what is not clear is the logistics involved in such switch over. Input materials like organic manure, safe natural crop protectants and cover crops are scarce resources while the actual practical methodology needs to be popularized through training under experienced practitioners. Though the studies have shown that organic food production can ensure increased production there has to be a coordinated effort at global level to put into practice what is already known and achieve the desired results. Like the recent UNO meeting on junk foods, a similar international consultation is called for to take appropriate action and evolve strategy to transform the current farming practices into organic system.

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