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Organics Can't Match Conventional Farm Yields

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the that's-what-they-want-you-to-think dept.

Earth 452

scibri writes "A comprehensive analysis published in Nature (abstract) suggests that organic farming could supply needs in some circumstances. But yields are lower than in conventional farming, so producing the bulk of the globe's diet will still require chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The meta-analysis reviewed 66 studies comparing the yields of 34 different crop species in organic and conventional farming systems. The researchers included only studies that assessed the total land area used, allowing them to compare crop yields per unit area. Many previous studies that have showed large yields for organic farming ignore the size of the area planted — which is often bigger than in conventional farming. Crop yields from organic farming are as much as 34% lower than those from comparable conventional farming practices, though in some cases, notably with strawberries and soybeans, the gap is as small as 3%."

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452 comments

Ummm. (5, Funny)

Cosgrach (1737088) | about 2 years ago | (#39812997)

No shit.

Re:Ummm. (2, Interesting)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | about 2 years ago | (#39813157)

Sad, but true: organic food - and with it, all the grass-fed, free-range and other land- and labor-intensive farming - will be the purview of the rich. Or at least the moderately wealthy. The rest of you, go stand in line for pink slime, industrial eggs and speed-grown corn.

Re:Ummm. (3, Interesting)

doston (2372830) | about 2 years ago | (#39813381)

Sad, but true: organic food - and with it, all the grass-fed, free-range and other land- and labor-intensive farming - will be the purview of the rich. Or at least the moderately wealthy. The rest of you, go stand in line for pink slime, industrial eggs and speed-grown corn.

Maybe, but this article and study aside, I've been watching the price of organics drop for years. Maybe organic crops aren't as efficient as they could be yet. As far as being the purview of the wealthy, I think that's only true to a point. I've just resigned myself to spending a higher percentage of my income on food. People in the US spent 6% of their income on food in 2009, UK 9% and France 14%. There are whole regions of France who only eat organic food. I'd like to see more people in the upper income brackets buy organic food and grass-fed, organic meat, pastured poultry and eggs, exclusively. I think it's a responsibility and might have a similar effect of lowering the price, sort of like electronics "early adopters". Here in the US, we throw away 33 million tons of food per year. Maybe we don't need so much efficiency after all.

Re:Ummm. (4, Interesting)

sribe (304414) | about 2 years ago | (#39813695)

I think it's a responsibility and might have a similar effect of lowering the price...

Wal-Mart has set its sights on the organic market and is pushing its producers to adopt organic practices, so your wish for lower prices is likely to come true.

Re:Ummm. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813779)

It's because for food to be labeled organic in the US, you can still use pesticides and fertilizers. They just have to be 'natural.' Which is probably not what most people think of when they buy organic.

Re:Ummm. (0)

Reverand Dave (1959652) | about 2 years ago | (#39813417)

Nutrition is nutrition when you can't afford anything else. I find it to be a ridiculous first world problem that people care so much about organic food. Organic beef is where a lot of the bovine diseases come from. It's the same theory as not vaccinating your kids. People in a lot of 3rd world nations would kill to make sure their kids are fed and have vaccines, but some snobby yuppy assholes won't eat a carrot because it wasn't grown organically and don't want their precious little gem to be vaccinated for diseases that aren't around any more, (except they are). Fucking ridiculous.

Re:Ummm. (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39813573)

So you oppose organics. Hell even conspiracy nut Alex Jones supports organic food over factory food. You're really out there dude.

Re:Ummm. (3, Informative)

Algae_94 (2017070) | about 2 years ago | (#39813669)

Organic farming doesn't exclude all vaccines. They are certainly discouraged, but can be used as needed. There is also a large difference between a child catching a preventable disease and an animal that was destined for a slaughterhouse being culled for a disease.

I'd like to see a citation that organic beef is where a lot of bovine diseases are, rather than the conventionally raised beef that generally live shoulder to shoulder with each other.

Re:Ummm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813475)

Actually what remains to be seen is what crops had the least significant difference in yield. Strawberries for example at 3 percent seem like an excellent investment for organic farmers if they can produce almost as many while using no pesticides or other chemicals. Additionally, we've been using horse manure for a couple of years now in our garden and while it's not quite big enough to feed us year round, it has gotten big enough to feed us from may to december with some limited exceptions (notably bread, cheese, and drinks).

Additionally we have tomatios and cherry tomatos(sp?) virulent enough to be considered a weed, which while not very tasty could probably provide a significant portion of many people's diet while only requiring maybe a 1-4 sq foot section of land (we had literally thousands of them the last two years, and if the weather hadn't been so weird this year, probably would've been the same. As it is they haven't really started sprouting yet. Although a greenhouse rather than relying on previously contaminated beds would have solved that.

Re:Ummm. (3, Interesting)

pspahn (1175617) | about 2 years ago | (#39813649)

Tomatillos. Not so much a food plant, but tasty nonetheless.

Strawberries may seem like a good candidate, except that they are so easy to spoil. Those organic yields may nearly be on par with non-organic, but I'm guessing the non-organic have a significantly longer shelf life.

Aside from all that, people actually used to grow their own plants. I know not everybody can do this, but a majority of first-world citizens could easily have their own gardens during the growing season. They're just too lazy.

Re:Ummm. (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#39813771)

One only has to visit a Whole Foods to see what food would cost if it all was organic - and you'll have to pay attention, because much of the stuff there is still conventional.

Re:Ummm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813601)

Actually, I am surprised that some crops were only 3% less productive without fertilizer and pesticides. That is very surprising to me.

Cost of fertilizer and pesticide production? (4, Interesting)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#39813007)

Did they take into account the costs that go into production of fertilizers and pesticides? I imagine that they take up non-zero space and that transporting them costs resources as well. Though it's hard to say how much oil a bushel of wheat is worth...

Re:Cost of fertilizer and pesticide production? (3, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#39813073)

Did they take into account the costs that go into production of fertilizers and pesticides? I imagine that they take up non-zero space and that transporting them costs resources as well. Though it's hard to say how much oil a bushel of wheat is worth...

I think part of the point of "organics" and other alternative farming methods is that some societies can't afford our lavish style.

Re:Cost of fertilizer and pesticide production? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813269)

It gets even more complicated. There are a lot of organic fertilizers and pesticides. But it tends to take more pounds of an organic fertilizer to achieve the same effects as a conventional mixed fertilizer. So you can end up using more petroleum resources in transportation and storage. Also, in many organic operations, pesticides are replaced by increased tillage and cultivation, so petroleum usage can skyrocket. Not to mention that burning off ditches and field division is also favored by many operations.

Organic agriculture varies from using much less in the way of resources, to using more. And is anywhere from 97% as productive to 66%. It's a complicated situation varying by crop, location, and your choice of organic/sustainable methods. As a trained statistician, I would predict that the chance of an informed and thoughtful public discussion is less then 1%.

Re:Cost of fertilizer and pesticide production? (1)

skids (119237) | about 2 years ago | (#39813671)

It's a complicated situation varying by crop, location, and your choice of organic/sustainable methods

...which makes studies looking to find broad-brush conclusions little more than interesting snapshots of an evolving field.

Really, tree-hugging aside, a big part of the driving force behind organics is a (deserved) lack of trust in the industry to fully inform consumers and to adequately test new technologies and techniques from a health perspective prior to large scale adoption. On the other hand, the "organic" label has been endowed with technical meanings that are in some cases irrationally purist and in other cases contrary to what people expect of it. It would be better to have a system of labels, dare I suggest even with numbers in them, tackling different aspects consumers might be concerned about.

Re:Cost of fertilizer and pesticide production? (2, Informative)

Dishevel (1105119) | about 2 years ago | (#39813397)

Though it's hard to say how much oil a bushel of wheat is worth...

Oil 1 Barrel = $104.55
Wheat 1 bushel = $6.35
Not hard.

Oh really? (5, Funny)

stevenfuzz (2510476) | about 2 years ago | (#39813019)

I was under the assumption that organic farms yielded more crops, and that we use pesticides / non-organic grown methods because they are just more fun.

Re:Oh really? (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#39813349)

I agree it's not surprising, but without studying it, it's at least theoretically possible that the gap could've been a cost rather than yield one, i.e. that organic methods could match pesticide-using methods in output, but only at higher expense. That would stil explain why conventional farming uses pesticides, if it lowered costs. What it looks like this study shows is that the yields can't match even ignoring price (though they can sometimes get close).

Yet We Constantly See That on Slashdot! (0)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#39813537)

Yeah that's really funny yet time and time again, I've been downmodded for saying that pesticides actually do increase output and people who have never farmed a day in their life are modded up for saying that "There has been a growing of evidence showing that the overuse of pesticides has led to a *decline* in crop yields, not an increase." [slashdot.org]

Slashdot is a bastion of technological know-how. Not farming, however.

Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (1)

Iskender (1040286) | about 2 years ago | (#39813049)

The yield is lower, but was energy input taken into account?

If fewer resources are required organic could still win out.

Although I suspect it will still be like the summary says: both will have their place. It's a small miracle we're feeding about seven billion people, and it was achieved through hard work and using all the tools available.

Add some more billions and we'll likely have organics, conventional agriculture and GM crops side by side, since we'll have no choice but to use all tools again.

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (1, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#39813213)

No, organic loose even then.

It's about yield. How much of the product can you resell per acre.

Much of the energy that goes into organic farming is the same per acre as regular farming(i.e. safer farming).

Organic farms are full of sloppy techniques, magical thinking, and poor quality product.

GM crops is conventional agriculture, and the worst way to help feed the people on the planet is organic farming.

If that energy was put towards vertical farming, we would be a lot better off.

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (4, Insightful)

Dr Caleb (121505) | about 2 years ago | (#39813291)

I wonder if the authors of the study get the point of Organic Farming?

It's not about yield, it's about removing the potentially allergenic and toxic substances in our food chain that modern farming uses from the land, air and water around us.

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (0)

Cyberax (705495) | about 2 years ago | (#39813341)

"It's not about yield, it's about removing the potentially allergenic and toxic substances" You mean 'food'? 'Organic farming' is nothing more than a buzzword. Its aim is to sell usually overpriced goods to idiotic consumers. And what's fun, 'organic' strawberries still use 'non-organic' pesticides. But that's OK because they are used only 'sparingly' (and without them you won't get a good crop). See: http://www.baycitizen.org/food/story/organic-strawberries-not-so-much/ [baycitizen.org]

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (1)

dr2chase (653338) | about 2 years ago | (#39813535)

"Organic farms are full of sloppy techniques, magical thinking, and poor quality product"

There are surely some organic farms that fit this description, but none of the ones I've seen. A distant relative runs an organic dairy in Vermont; it runs like any other dairy, but the cows are pastured on "organic" pasture (a lucky fluke, says the owner -- they just never used fertilizer or pesticides on it.) and fed organic feed.

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | about 2 years ago | (#39813555)

The yield is lower, but was energy input taken into account?

No, organic loose even then.

Would it? Producing those pesticides and fertilizers required oil. Transporting and applying them required oil. Pumping and transporting the oil required oil. Is all that oil taken into consideration?

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (4, Interesting)

msobkow (48369) | about 2 years ago | (#39813599)

I can't agree that GMO's are "conventional" agriculture.

"Conventional" agriculture seeds the fields with part of the last harvest, the seeds of the plants which survived in the local conditions. After about 20 generations or so, you have "land race" genetics -- plants whose genomes have self-tuned to the pests and weather of the local environment. Provided the environment remains stable and isn't affected by imported pests, such crops are far more productive than genetics imported from outside the region.

GMO's on the other hand, have one purpose and one purpose only: To allow the use of herbicides and pesticides that would kill the "natural" plant. I can guarantee you that if landrace genetics were resistant to those same herbicides and pesticides that they'd out-produce the imported GMOs.

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813655)

There are some farms that are seeing lower yielding fields independent of nitrogen fertiliser used as soil quality and micronutrient content drop. So when the ferts stop working, the pesticides stop working and gm crops stop working it will be interesting to see if organic looses then. The industrial manufacture of protein for the plate rather that the farming of crops and animals for food is an abomination. Sold as the only hope to feed the population explosion when population control is the issue.

Re:Lower Yield, But What Yield Per Energy? (1)

wrook (134116) | about 2 years ago | (#39813777)

I got modded down in another thread saying the same thing, but I'll try again. Conventional farming is about highest yield *per dollar*. There are ways to increase yield without the use of a lot of external inputs, but they are labor intensive.

I'm not really a big fan of "organic". You're still locked into the thinking of using external input (fertilizers, pesticides, etc). You're just changing the ones you are using. To take an extreme, you could actually stand over your crops and pick weeds by hand as they emerge, or squash bugs with your fingers. I do it on my plants all the time, because I like hanging out in my garden. Fertilization of crops is a matter of getting the correct nutrients to the plants at the right time. There is more than one way to do this. The conventional way is to practically drown the plants in nutrients, to the point where we get large amounts of run off. IMHO, current organic practices are not a lot better. We're just changing where we're getting the nutrients from.

Our biggest problem is the low price of food. Wheat is currently $300 per metric ton. That's 30 cents per kg. Along the supply chain, this gets multiplied up to incredible levels. How much do you pay for flour? How much for a loaf of bread? We squeeze our farmers down to the point where a single person must grow a crop for hundreds or thousands of people. They are forced to use conventional techniques due to cost.

Fix the cost of distribution and suddenly farmers have more options. We should be pursuing as many as we can. Like you say, vertical farming is promising. There's nothing wrong with closed looped hydroponics. But as we put the vice on farmers by constantly reducing (in real dollar terms) the price they receive for their product, we reduce our options.

What's the relevant limit? (4, Insightful)

metrometro (1092237) | about 2 years ago | (#39813053)

Which will we run out of first, oil or dirt?

Population Control? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813057)

Why is increasing the crop yield necessarily a good thing? It stands to reason that any increase in food production will lead to an increase in the total human population, which directly recreates the problem in a worse way for the next generation. The fact that our population has tripled over the past 60 years is alarming enough, if another increase of comparable scale happens the lack of available foodstuffs will be the least of our problems.

Yes, it's sad that children in economically depressed regions are starving so please avoid predicating an argument from that premise alone.

Re:Population Control? (4, Insightful)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | about 2 years ago | (#39813247)

Yes, it's sad that children in economically depressed regions are starving so please avoid predicating an argument from that premise alone.

That isn't enough?

Re:Population Control? (1)

Telvin_3d (855514) | about 2 years ago | (#39813645)

No, it's not. Unless deciding against organic farming also magically transports the new surpluses into the hands of the starving it doesn't matter at all.

Food shortages are a distribution problem, not a production problem. My guess is that if the distribution problem was magicaly solved tomorrow we could probably meet actual demand mostly with organics.

Re:Population Control? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813657)

No, it isn't. Unless you have a method of feeding hungry people that doesn't lead to an unsustainable increase in population, it will necessarily recreate the problem. Hunger isn't a condition new to humanity, but it has served as a vital check on the herd.

If you are able to answer this and avoid "The Repugnant Conclusion" please share your wisdom.

Re:Population Control? (1)

xous (1009057) | about 2 years ago | (#39813691)

Nature is a harsh bitch.

Humans and gone and corrupted the natural controls on population size and we are just starting to suffer the consequences. Natural resources aren't just going to appear because it's not fair that kids are starving. Population control would probably be a more effective long term solution then trying to increase the supply.

Lack of food isn't because of farming. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813739)

Yes, it's sad that children in economically depressed regions are starving so please avoid predicating an argument from that premise alone.

That isn't enough?

No, it isn't. And it's the wrong solution to the problem.

There's plenty of food in the World. Half the food in the US is thrown out, btw.

What the real problem is, is getting the food to people who need it. One of the major reasons is that most starving people live in failed states - states that have no problem feeding their soldiers.

Or here it is another way: you can produce all the food you think you need to stop starvation and it wouldn't even put a dent in it.

Re:Population Control? (2)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 2 years ago | (#39813723)

It stands to reason that any increase in food production will lead to an increase in the total human population

Not only does it not stand to reason, it doesn't agree with recent history. Italy isn't starving, and Italy is breeding below replacement rate. The United States is capable of ridiculous food production and wastes a great deal of what it produces, yet they population only grows through immigration.

People can think and act on their thoughts. Many people with access to affordable birth control choose not to have children, because they decide that the benefits aren't worth the costs. They do not mindlessly breed until they starve.
If "overpopulation" is something you wish to prevent without causing increased suffering, then oppose religions and other belief systems that promote huge families, and encourage the sort of civilization rich enough to afford birth control and with enough entertainment that people don't dight out of boredom.

Why is increasing the crop yield necessarily a good thing?

Because high crop yield frees land for other uses including forest, and because it frees labor for leisure or other productive use.

Yeah, take that! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813067)

All you organic farmers who claim organic farming produces higher yields than conventional farming, you can just... ...wait, what, nobody ever claimed that? Shit, nevermind. Carry on.

"Conventional" Farming (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813075)

I find the rhetorical twist here interesting: "conventional farming" is now the artificially accelerated, yield raising variant of farming. The very things that those techniques were supposed to address were increased yields, pest resistance, etc. "Organic" farming as we know it now was previously largely known as "farming". Obviously the results are not at all surprising, but there is a very sinister underlying rhetoric here. Fill in the blank: Study sponsored by: ________

Re:"Conventional" Farming (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#39813443)

I find the rhetorical twist here interesting: "conventional farming" is now the artificially accelerated, yield raising variant of farming.

And has been ever since we started artificially restoring fertility and raising yield - I.E. whenever we started using manure and night soil, then added crop rotation, phosphate (guano), liming fields, etc...
 

"Organic" farming as we know it now was previously largely known as "farming".

No it wasn't.
 
The one spinning and redefining here is you - because you're artificially walling off a host a practices dating back millenia as 'organic' rather than recognizing them for what they are.

Re:"Conventional" Farming (4, Insightful)

poity (465672) | about 2 years ago | (#39813527)

Conventional means the commonly accepted method. In the case of contemporary farming practice, the use of pesticides and chemically derived fertilizers is indeed conventional. It seems to me like you may have confused the meaning of "conventional" with that of "traditional", and indeed you are correct in pointing out that what is "organic farming" today was just "farming" in the past, but that would nonetheless make it traditional rather than conventional.

In short, that was stormy rant born of a vocabulary deficiency. Sinister? Sheesh, the Slashdot melodrama these days...

Sure, but conventional ag has problems too (3, Insightful)

n1ywb (555767) | about 2 years ago | (#39813091)

This isn't really news, organic farmers have always known this. Anyway conventional ag has problems too. Pesticides poison bees and us. Fertilizer comes from petroleum. GMO crops, Monsanto, etc. Organics are also closely connected to sustainability which is the idea that intensive factory farming just can't go on forever so we'd damn well better figure out another way to feed ourselves.

If I were king I'd start by banning suburbs built on arable land. I'd also suggest that certain groups stop producing so many offspring.

Re:Sure, but conventional ag has problems too (0)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#39813279)

" Pesticides poison bees"
not shown.

"and us"
misuseds, maybe. Do you know the half life of a pesticide? the dosage?

They can be improved. Organic farming, by it's definition can not be improved.

"Fertilizer comes from petroleum"
so?

". Organics are also closely connected to sustainability"
and there's the knucklehead response.

No they aren't, unless by sustainability you mean, poison people and let people starve.
You know the cause of the last 4 or 5 food borne problems are started due to organic farming or natural ranching?

"If I were king I'd start by banning suburbs built on arable land. I'd also suggest that certain groups stop producing so many offspring."
Thanks, Hitler.

Re:Sure, but conventional ag has problems too (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 2 years ago | (#39813407)

They can be improved. Organic farming, by it's definition can not be improved.

That's just plain old false. Its definition says no such thing.

You can farm organically using a two field crop rotation system. Change to a three field crop rotation and you are growing 33% more while still doing organic farming, disproving you claim.

Now sure you'd be pretty dumb to be using a two field crop rotation since some people were using four field crop rotation in the 1500s. But you don't know there isn't a more efficient system we haven't discovered yet that would improve yields - it seems unlikely I admit but that covers a "by definition" claim.

Re:Sure, but conventional ag has problems too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813625)

Adding a field should make you get 50% more. Then again, maybe that 12% is what is lost by organic farming?

Re:Sure, but conventional ag has problems too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813469)

ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding
Godwin!

We have a winner!!

Re:Sure, but conventional ag has problems too (1)

dr2chase (653338) | about 2 years ago | (#39813617)

"" Pesticides poison bees""
"not shown."
Strongly suggested
by experiments. Maybe not proven at the 100% level, but they've been studying CCD for a while and this looks like a stronger link than most.

I was told, also, by a professor of entomology at URI, that some common pesticides (carbaryl, aka "Sevin") are reliably bad for bees. It's not intuitive which are the killers -- malathion is a better choice because it kills bees dead in the field, before they return to the hive carrying poison.

So I think it is shown.

Re:Sure, but conventional ag has problems too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813731)

Fertilizer comes from petroleum.

Actually most fertilizer comes from natural gas, creating free hydrogen which is bound to nitrogen for the air (haber process). Petroleum is mostly used is the moving of intermediate products (like ammonia, phosphoric acid, calcium, magnesium) to fertilizer factors and eventually out to farms. Sometimes petroleum is burned to provide energy to run the process, but usually the energy to create the fertilizer comes from coal or natural gas. Certainly fertilizer production is heavy fossil fuel consumer, but it's not very fair to say that it comes from petroleum. Sustainablity and independence from fossil fuels mean locality (not using petrolum to move stuff from place to place and using and polluting less water).

By distorting the argument, you basically are sloganizing a complicated tradeoff that needs to be made for the survival of our species and probably help to enforce certain prejudices which probably don't help us reach a reasonable solution. At least if you have a slogan, have it be somewhat accurate.

I'd also suggest that certain groups stop producing so many offspring.

Perhaps I just shouldn't say anything about this comment ... ;^)

There is more to farming than bushels per acre (5, Insightful)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 2 years ago | (#39813093)

I believe the point of organic farming is to minimize the negative externalities of "conventional" (I would say "industrial") farming, such as water pollution. If you have to plant 34% more acres to avoid poisoning a major river, I and many others would call that a win.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (0)

Calsar (1166209) | about 2 years ago | (#39813173)

The point of organic farming it to charge more for your crops. Farming is a business.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (3, Insightful)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | about 2 years ago | (#39813235)

The point of organic farming is to grow safe food. Prices are higher because farming is a business, but it isn't the primary motivation. Obviously industrial farming has higher margins, which is why almost all "normal" food is grown that way.

-d

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (0, Troll)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#39813287)

except organic farming producer more dangerous by products, and lower quality food. But, hey dying that way is natural, so lets ignore it, shall we.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (1)

wickedskaman (1105337) | about 2 years ago | (#39813377)

What are these dangerous by-products, exactly? I've seen this expressed a couple more times in this discussion.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (1)

Daetrin (576516) | about 2 years ago | (#39813401)

I hate to be that guy, but... citation please? I'm not saying it's impossible, but industrial farming sure uses a lot of chemicals which have been known in the past to cause environmental damage. And my own experience as a kid when my family had a small garden and every report i've heard from anyone who has successfully tried growing their own food (ie using the same methods that "organic" farming is supposed to recreate) indicates that higher quality food is produced that way.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (1)

lattyware (934246) | about 2 years ago | (#39813743)

Go watch Penn and Teller's Bullshit episode on Organic food, then go read up a bit on it and come back. The reality is that organic farmers use natural ferlisers and pesticides - which are generally more harmful and less effective. On the other hand, normal farmers can use the stuff we have created with the intention of being better for the plants, people and the environment. Natural and good are two completely different things, and organic only means natural.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (1)

squidflakes (905524) | about 2 years ago | (#39813461)

Care to elaborate on how organic farming produces more dangerous byproducts than industrial scale chemical spraying and the rivers of liquified pig and chicken shit that pour out of factory ranching?

My money is that you come back with some outbreak of e.coli and try to link that to organic practices, completely ignoring that it was the unsafe handling of the food during packaging that caused the contamination.

But, but all means, continue with your incredibly ignorant line of argument. Its a hoot to read.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813343)

If you have to deforest 34% more acres to avoid poisoning a major river, I and many others would call that a complicated issue.

You can't pick and choose your externalities. Reduced yields mean more land needs to be cultivated to feed an expanding population. The best agricultural land is already in use, that means we need to push into more marginal areas that require more inputs (or just flat produce less) or chop down forests.

Deforestation puts pressures on animal populations and is one of the greatest contributors to global warming.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813375)

Modern super farms = Industrial farming
Small family farms and co-ops = Conventional farming
Small to medium size farms with no chemicals = Organic farming
Growing your own food = Subsistence farming

At least in my world those are the correct definitions.

Re:There is more to farming than bushels per acre (1)

lattyware (934246) | about 2 years ago | (#39813773)

Afraid you are wrong. Organic means no man-made chemicals. You can still shove whatever fertiliser or pesticide you want on your field, it'll just be one that is more likely to run into a stream and pollute it or harm other animals in the food chain, instead of using these clever ones we made to avoid those things. Great.

We could make it work (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813097)

We could stop throwing away over 1/3 of our food, grow less beef cattle, and reduce our use of non-food agriculture like tobacco and ethanol (as a side note, we could stop using so much high fructose corn syrup too) and then maybe we'd actually be able to produce a decent amount of healthy organic food for the world. Personal and community gardens could lighten the load, as well as urban farming. It seems to me that its not the yield that we should worry about, rather the efficiency of use.

Re:We could make it work (1)

Brian Feldman (350) | about 2 years ago | (#39813241)

Indeed. On top of that, we could stop shipping food around so much, grow crops intrinsically more suited for the local climate, grow food that is more nutritionally viable and therefore requires less land to feed the same amount of people.... Sustainability should be the name of the game, not instant gratification, pandering to limited tastes and maximizing visible aesthetic of the foods we need to SURVIVE. Not look at in awe and wonder but actually eat and survive.

Re:We could make it work (0)

squidflakes (905524) | about 2 years ago | (#39813597)

What I'd also love to see is a reduction in the trend for people to buy restaurant and laboratory grade equipment for their home kitchens. You're not a god damn French chef and there is no fucking need to spin lime juice at 40,000g.

"globe's diet" (1)

Sebastopol (189276) | about 2 years ago | (#39813113)

This is the most questionable aspect. The globe's diet is largely shaped by industrial agriculture (at least in non-poverty/sustainance living societies). Organic consumers tend to consume differently. Making the assumption that the global diet would remain the same and forcing the organic crop production into this model sorta sets the organic farmer up for failure from the gecko.

Re:"globe's diet" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813303)

"from the gecko"? I believe you've heard "from the get-go" and misunderstood.

Synthetics (4, Funny)

oGMo (379) | about 2 years ago | (#39813123)

Proving once again that organics will be outclassed by synthetics? What, wrong game?

(The label "organics" always amused me.)

"producing the bulk of the globe's diet" (2)

sugarmotor (621907) | about 2 years ago | (#39813131)

The title of the linked article is "Organic farming is rarely enough". But it is difficult to back up that "producing the bulk of the globe's diet will still require chemical fertilizers and pesticides", and so they simply skip that.

Reference again, http://www.nature.com/news/organic-farming-is-rarely-enough-1.10519 [nature.com]

S

Re: "producing the bulk of the globe's diet" (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#39813621)

Europe would be fine with 100% organics. We already produce much more than we need in order to provide security in case our foreign suppliers are suddenly cut off. Last thing we want is to be dependent on other countries for food in the same way we are for oil.

It is the rapidly expanding populations of emerging economies that need non-organic farming, but we will probably have to deal with the population problem anyway.

yield per unit area is meaningless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813163)

In particular, yield per acre != merit of farming practice.

Quality vs. quanity? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813169)

Did this study take into account the nutritional value of the crops grown? Even if organic crops yield less, there is a greater value to them if they are more nutritional than chemically produced crops. A quick look on Google points to many studies that claim the nutritional value of crops are better when grown organically. If the studies don't take this into account they really are not valid.

Re:Quality vs. quanity? (1)

Brian Feldman (350) | about 2 years ago | (#39813257)

Aesthetics are more important than everything! That's what the industrial revolution taught us, right?

Re:Quality vs. quanity? (1)

squidflakes (905524) | about 2 years ago | (#39813611)

Yeah, what good is a tomato unless it positively glows red. Who cares that it tastes like water and has a similar nutritional value.

Re:Quality vs. quanity? (2)

cpm99352 (939350) | about 2 years ago | (#39813693)

Correct, I was just about to post to bring up mineral/protein content. We're doing soil amendments, and paying for soil tests as well as actually testing the produce. We found our potatoes were significantly higher in minerals than a store bought potato (which we had tested at the same time).

Klober's _Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs_ (2009) states on page 75 "These old, open-pollinated field-corn varieties often tested in the 13-16 percent crude protein range. This was far better than the 8 or 9 percent levels assigned to modern hybrids, and many hog producers are assigning a value or just 6 percent when formulating rations with heavily heat-dried corn."

While not certified organic, I grow veg and raise poultry and pork in an organic fashion, primarily for my own consumption. I do so in the belief that the food is healthier. I'm appalled how the conventional meat & dairy business treat their animals. I fully understand organic costs more money. On the other hand, 100 years ago American were paying a significantly larger amount of money on food.

Lesson to Learn and Spread (4, Insightful)

eepok (545733) | about 2 years ago | (#39813171)

"Organic" farming is not good in and of itself. It's better at preventing the consumption of toxic chemicals, it's more environmentally sound, and it's also more economically just (because "organic" foods are not copyrighted).

Since we can't feed the planet on organics, but we want all the benefits of organics, we need to change the way do make, use, and "protect" conventional crops. That means federal funding to develop non-copyrighted crops and promote biodiversity regardless of within organic and modified foods.

The lesson: instead of replacing modern modified foods with organics, bring modified foods up to the ethical and environmental standards of organic foods.

Where's the story? (1)

J'raxis (248192) | about 2 years ago | (#39813179)

So what exactly is the story here? People are surprised that they can't get the same farm yields when not using chemicals that were specifically introduced to produce such higher farm yields?

In other news, I'm surprised I can't light a darkened room without actually using a light source.

Organic is the right way to grow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813211)

The chemical companies say the pesticides are safe. Didn't they make DDT? The chemical companies say the fertilizers are safe. Why do fertilizers end up polluting our waterways? Since most fertilizers are produced from fossil fuels what happens when we run out of them? I guess they will have to learn how to grow organically.

Labels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813273)

I don't understand why we call inorganic farming "conventional". We've been using organic farming a lot longer than what is now considered conventional. Until recently there was no one used the term "organic farming" because all farming was organic.

As much as... - what is average? (1)

kandresen (712861) | about 2 years ago | (#39813289)

Ok so one type of product maxed out at 34%, another had 3%. But what is the typical benefit? Surely if it is right in the middle most manipulation only result in about 15-20%.

Another factor not accounted for is actual nutrient value of the two. If the crop i.e. simply hold more water without nutrients the yield might be higher but without real effect.

Genetic engineering can increase organic yields (2)

Dr. Spork (142693) | about 2 years ago | (#39813315)

While this is no surprise, I still think that we'll eventually have to transition to large-scale organic farming anyway. Present forms of industrial farming destroy topsoil and rely on fossil fuels which will get too expensive to be used for fertilizer. It might work for now, but hopefully we'll still be alive when present methods hit a wall. To stay alive, we'll simply have to transition to organic methods. What we need to do is to engineer crops that produce high yields even when they're farmed organically, which is to say, they should resist pests, fix lots of nitrogen from the atmosphere and yield products with a higher nutritional content. Organic farming is a method that makes sense to combine with a genetically engineered product, something I would much prefer to whatever it is that I'm buying in grocery stores now.

Rodale Institute Disagrees (4, Informative)

puppetman (131489) | about 2 years ago | (#39813351)

The Rodale Institute did a 30 year side-by-side study [rodaleinstitute.org]. They found that,

- initially, organic farms created less, as fertilizers and pesticide initially gave a conventional farms a boost. This disappeared over time, as conventional farming damages and degrades the soil, reducing yeilds.

- organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.

- organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.

- organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.

- conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.

- organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.

I am not sure where that last one came from (I haven't read the final report [rodaleinstitute.org])

Re:Rodale Institute Disagrees (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813699)

The insitute for organic farming has found that organic farming is the best?

STOP THE PRESSES!

Next on Slashdot: Coca Cola releases 30 year study showing that Coke tastes better than Pepsi!

Ignorami (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813359)

I've lived my entire life in the Upper Great Plains of the US. My family is cattle-ranchers. In Iowa, where I live now, our towns and cities are covered with endless square miles of corn -- all of which is grown conventionally.

I really dislike it when those who've never even seen a farm comment "authoritatively" about farming. It's like listening to Alex Jones talk about IT: he's obviously ignorant. In fact, he's so ignorant that one doesn't even know where to start correcting him.

Bottom-line for the ignorami: shut up. You have no idea what you're talking about, and it's painfully obvious to those of us who do.

Bottom-line for the long-haired hippie freaks who want us to convert to "organic" (i.e. pre-scientific advancement farming):

It'd serve you right if we did. You'd starve. The world is fed by my neighbors. If you want them to scrape by on subsistence-level farming, fine: we'll just eat what we grow while you idiots starve.

Re:Ignorami (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813577)

Your neighbors farm govt subsidies more than anything else.

Large portions of the corn produced go to make further subsidized ethanol fuel to ruin our fuel milage, or further subsided HFCS to make us fatter. Still more goes to feed cattle and pigs, which have to be fed antibiotics because corn makes them sick.

We make more food than we need. Hunger is a sociopolitical issue, not a production one. We'd all be better off if we ended the above tax dollar waste and properly regulated the wholesale dumping of chemical shit on to crops so it wasn't a cost-shifted burden on everyone living downriver. Organic farming would be competitive if it wasn't profitable to pollute.

Your entire state lives off the taxpayer dime on a platform of pork, lies, and bible-thumping crook politicians. It's the Republican way.

Re:Ignorami (2)

thrich81 (1357561) | about 2 years ago | (#39813653)

Those endless square miles of corn are not going to feed anyone who is starving in this world -- they are going to produce high fructose corn syrup and a thousand other unhealthy industrial food calories which reduces the life-span of every American who eats it. As well as industrial corn feeding of cows with the same unhealthy result. Plus it is going to inefficient production of ethanol which barely, if at all, produces more fuel energy than the fossil fuels it burns up in production. All subsidized by the American taxpayer. And all those fertilizers sluice down the Mississippi and poison the Gulf of Mexico reducing its ability to produce high quality seafood. So we would all be better off if the midwestern industrial corn farmers would indeed convert to some other crops, some varieties more healthful than corn. The price of a bag of corn chips and a hamburger would go up some, but we would all make that up on lower medical bills for the population as a whole.

Not that either matter (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813477)

Large scale aquaponics could be better than both of them multiplied, globally.
Yes, larger initial cost, but once that is done, it is solid.

Insect farming, likewise, could provide an easily farmable supply of a lot of nutrients which can be molded to various requirements very easily. (be it powder, liquid, paste, patties, sausages and so on)

Then we add in large-scale recycling of edible materials rather than carting it off to land-fills to be used as nutrient supplies for these systems.

Enjoy your 20~+billion cap for food. Power, though, that'll still be a problem.
A well designed aquaponics farm can be run very cost efficiently compared to tractor fuels, automatic watering and pesticide deployment, since a considerable amount of it is controlled with gravity.
Even with UV lights, probably, for those longer / infinity days. (don't quote me on the last part though)

Why the hell aren't we doing this?
These 3 things could feed the world several times over.
All it needs is a little investment and it will pay for itself pretty damn quickly.
Oh, I see why. Nobody wants to spend any of that virtual money.

Reporting *FAIL* (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813701)

"as much as 34% lower" is meaningless -- what's the weighted average based on a healthy diet.

And while we're on the topic of healthy diet, if everyone gave up 90% of their meat consumption, we'd be vastly better off (both as individuals and globally) than using chemicals. If the advantage is only 34% I'd be unimpressed. This is strong argument for a (near) vegetarian diet, not for conventional agriculture.

Unmatched in more ways than one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39813747)

Organic farming can't match "conventional" farm yields in terms of water pollution due to run-off either.

Numbers do not add up (2, Informative)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#39813789)

"Crop yields from organic farming are as much as 34% lower than those from comparable conventional farming practices"
"organic farming could supply needs in some circumstances. But yields are lower than in conventional farming, so producing the bulk of the globe's diet will still require chemical fertilizers and pesticides."

Which obviously jumps out as obviously false. Just using the number of 34% as the amount less that every crop would grow would mean that obviously Organic can feed the world because we know that far far more then that is "wasted" from western agriculture.
It has got to be something like 20% of food grown in the USA that is actually eaten by humans.
After you take out huge chunks that are thrown away, ~40%, even more that is inefficiently converted to human food through meat, and other argi land that is used to grow bio diesel or sweeteners. In fact it is probably far far less then 20%.

And of course Organics would yield less in these circumstances. Correctly done you do not grow organic produce in a monoculture field like environment that these studies are studying.

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