News & Media :: Daily Log
Apr 27, 2010
In an post-debate commentary entitled "Losing the Organic Debate," Dennis Avery attributed his team's loss to the "elite New York audience" that "didn't care" about the erosion control benefits of chemical-based no-till farming, and the need to plant more acres to meet global food needs.
These were among the recurrent themes stressed by Avery and his two colleagues arguing for the motion -- "Organic food is marketing hype," despite the fact that the impacts of no-till farming and crop yields have little or nothing to do with the attributes used in the marketing of organic food -- the actual focus of the debate.
Understandably, Avery does not mention the fact that many in the audience just didn't buy many of the "facts" presented in support of his statements -- facts like organic farming produces only one-half the yields of conventional farming.
Yields on organic farms typically are somewhat lower than yields on conventional farms in years with normal rainfall patterns. Depending on the crop and location, credible studies show organic yields on modern, commercial organic farms average between 80% and 90% of those on nearby conventional farms.
During drought years and on organic farms with successful weed management systems, organic yields typically equal and often exceed yields on conventional farms.
As pointed out later in the debate by the side arguing against the motion, crop yields are too narrow a metric for judging the productivity of organic or conventional farms. Instead, comparisons across farming systems should be based on total food produced on a given farm, relative to the production inputs brought onto the farm.
Because organic farms use land more intensively, often planting two crops per year -- one for harvest and one to build the soil -- organic farming utilizes more fully the solar radiation falling on a given acre of land over a production season.
The extra crop production often is used to feed animals and the soil, and contributes to the generally higher level of food production per acre relative to production inputs on organic farms.