Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Can organic food feed the world? New study sheds light on debate over organic vs. conventional agriculture

Date:
April 25, 2012
Source:
McGill University
Summary:
Can organic agriculture feed the world? Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers. A new study concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet -- yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.

Organic market in Vienna.
Credit: © Tupungato / Fotolia

Can organic agriculture feed the world? Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers at McGill University and the University of Minnesota.

A new study published in Nature concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet -- yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.

The study, which represents a comprehensive analysis of the current scientific literature on organic-to-conventional yield comparisons, aims to shed light on the often heated debate over organic versus conventional farming. Some people point to conventional agriculture as a big environmental threat that undercuts biodiversity and water resources, while releasing greenhouse gases. Others argue that large-scale organic farming would take up more land and make food unaffordable for most of the world's poor and hungry.

"To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques -- including organic, conventional, and possible 'hybrid' systems -- to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture," the researchers conclude.

Overall, organic yields are 25% lower than conventional, the study finds. The difference varies widely across crop types and species, however. Yields of legumes and perennials (such as soybeans and fruits), for example, are much closer to those of conventional crops, according to the study, conducted by doctoral student Verena Seufert and Geography professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill and Prof. Jonathan Foley of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

What's more, when best management practices are used for organic crops, overall yields are just 13% lower than conventional levels. "These results suggest that today's organic systems may nearly rival conventional yields in some cases -- with particular crop types, growing conditions and management practices -- but often they do not," the researchers write. Improvements in organic management techniques, or adoption of organic agriculture under environmental conditions where it performs best, may help close the yield gap, they indicate.

"Our study indicates that organically fertilized systems might require higher nitrogen inputs to achieve high yields as organic nitrogen is less readily available to crops. In some cases, organic farmers may therefore benefit by making limited use of chemical fertilizers instead of relying only on manure to supply nitrogen to their crops," Seufert says. "At the same time, conventional agriculture can learn from successful organic systems and implement practices that have shown environmental benefits, such as increased crop diversity and use of crop residues."

Yields are only part of a set of economic, social and environmental factors that should be considered when gauging the benefits of different farming systems, the researchers note. "Maybe people are asking the wrong question," Prof Ramankutty says. "Instead of asking if food is organically grown, maybe we should be asking if it's sustainably grown."

The results point to a need to get beyond the black-and-white, ideological debates that often pit advocates of organic and local foods against proponents of conventional agriculture, Prof. Foley adds. "By combining organic and conventional practices in a way that maximizes food production and social good while minimizing adverse environmental impact, we can create a truly sustainable food system."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by McGill University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Verena Seufert, Navin Ramankutty, Jonathan A. Foley. Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11069

Cite This Page:

McGill University. "Can organic food feed the world? New study sheds light on debate over organic vs. conventional agriculture." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120425140114.htm>.
McGill University. (2012, April 25). Can organic food feed the world? New study sheds light on debate over organic vs. conventional agriculture. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120425140114.htm
McGill University. "Can organic food feed the world? New study sheds light on debate over organic vs. conventional agriculture." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120425140114.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

AFP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Tourists in Palau clamour to dive with sharks thanks to a pioneering conservation initiative -- as the island nation plans to completely ban commercial fishing in its vast ocean territory. 01:15 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Drug Could Reduce Cardiovascular Deaths

New Drug Could Reduce Cardiovascular Deaths

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — The new drug from Novartis could reduce cardiovascular deaths by 20 percent compared to other similar drugs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins