Good News for Organic Farming — Berkeley Study Says Productivity Higher Than Previously Thought
by Brian Berletic
Organic farming is of course environmentally and socially sound, but many critics have argued it simply cannot compete with industrial farming which uses chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and even genetically modified crops. However, a new study conducted by UC Berkeley challenges that notion, proving the gap between organic and industrial cultivation is not only smaller than previously thought, but most likely can be closed or exceeded with proper research and development.
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Berkeley’s news center reported that:
“In terms of comparing productivity among the two techniques, this paper sets the record straight on the comparison between organic and conventional agriculture,” said the study’s senior author, Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it’s critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining.”
“Our study suggests that through appropriate investment in agroecological research to improve organic management and in breeding cultivars for organic farming systems, the yield gap could be reduced or even eliminated for some crops or regions,” said the study’s lead author, Lauren Ponisio, a graduate student in environmental science, policy and management. “This is especially true if we mimic nature by creating ecologically diverse farms that harness important ecological interactions like the nitrogen-fixing benefits of intercropping or cover-cropping with legumes.”
Mimicking nature by creating “ecologically diverse farms” sounds very similar to techniques including aquaponics, polyculture, and permaculture. As many even among proponents of industrial agriculture have noted, polyculture and permaculture techniques produce natural balances that are difficult to duplicate or beat through artificial means. Such techniques, being natural processes in nature, also become more sustainable environmentally for society, and economically for farmers who let nature rather than yearly procured chemicals and seeds, do the work.
Not only can organic agriculture be fine tuned in terms of technique, but new research and development in the use of technology to aid organic agriculture may also increase not only yields but also the number of places organic food can actually be produced. Breakthroughs in other fields including energy and automation, for instance, may augment already increasingly efficient organic practices.
The Berkeley study illustrates what many have already begun to realize regarding organic agriculture, that by coupling it with technology it can compete head-to-head with highly industrialized agriculture not only in terms of sustainability and quality, but also apparently in quantity too.