Friday, October 14, 2011

Organic vs. Conventional Farming - The Rodale Institute's 30 Year Study

The Rodale Institute released a remarkable long term study comparing conventional farming practices to organic. As you probably know, this is a very controversial topic with much hype and confusion from both sides of the argument. Until now, there has not been any credible experiments or studies to really answer this question in its entirety.

The Rodale Institute farm in Pennsylvania hosted the study.
In most cases, this controversy pits large agribusiness corporations against organic farmers. Agribusiness argues that the products they sell (pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizer, genetically modified seeds) are essential for farmers and are necessary to increase a farmers “yield per acre” (that is they grow more food on a given area of land). On the other hand, organic farmers argue that these claims are not true and that they can actually produce more food per acre, healthier food, and protect our environment, all at the same time.

Previous studies, from both sides of the issue, presented only small parts of the big picture. In this long term experiment (30 years long) the Rodale Institute measured almost every conceivable factor, including pesticide use and cost, transportation costs, fertilizer use and cost, yield per acre, as well as so many other variables that are too long to list here.

So what exactly did the Rodale Institute find?

It turns out that organic farming is better in virtually every single measurement taken during this experiment. This study demonstrates that organic farming can not only yield more food per acre than conventional farming, but when combined with less expenses for fertilizer, pesticides and other “inputs”, it also makes farmers more money by increasing their profits while causing less damage to the soil (and our health) by virtually eliminating pesticide and herbicide use.

Since food per acre is usually the sole metric by which most farmers measure success, this study has the potential to have a great impact. The added benefits of virtually eliminating pesticide and herbicide use, while generally overlooked by most farmers, must be considered in any discussion about the merits of conventional or organic farming.

Organic lettuce growing at the Rodale Institute.
Furthermore, eliminating the use of oil-based fertilizers by switching to organic farming means less energy is spent on growing crops and less reliance on a limited resource to grow our food. As the world reaches its capacity to produce cost-effective oil, the price of conventionally grown food will increase. Organic farms produce their own fertilizer in renewable and sustainable ways, keeping this cost lower for farmers.

In addition, the organic systems tested returned valuable carbon and other minerals to the soils which helps prevent erosion and promotes healthy root activity in plants. What it all boils down to is simple. Organic farming puts nutrients (and therefore health) back into the soil allowing healthier plants to grow which ultimately increases the amount and quality of food that will grow. Conventional farming is about adding synthetic chemical inputs and trying to force plants to grow bigger.

So overall, organic farming increases yields per acre, eliminates the costs (both financial and environmental) of using synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and decreases the need for oil by eliminating synthetic fertilizers.

The Rodale Institute’s press release can be found here. More information, including the actual study data, can be found here.

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I feel honored to be an inspiration. Best of luck with the organic planting.


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