U study: good news for organic farming

The current premium price placed on organic food could make organic farming more lucrative than conventional farming.

Josh Linehan

Organic food farmers and aficionados received good news this month through the publication of a University study.

The 10-year study shows only slight decreases in corn and soybean yields when organic farming practices are used instead of conventional methods employing synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

When lower production costs are factored in, organic farming is financially equivalent to conventional methods, according to the study.

In fact, the current premium price placed on organically farmed food could make organic farming the more lucrative option, said Paul Porter, a University agronomist and co-author of the study.

“In reality the organic product can be sold for a little bit more, so the organic product is a little more attractive,” Porter said.

The project, based in Lamberton, Minn., is still running. The study takes data compiled from 1989-1999. It shows, for example, that corn grown organically in a four-year rotation averaged between 7 percent and 9 percent less yield than conventional corn.

Soybeans grown in a typical two-year rotation with corn showed a higher decrease when grown organically, yielding 16 percent to 19 percent less.

The results also suggest soybean and corn yields would be increased by a four-year rotation of soybeans, corn, oats and alfalfa rather than the conventional two-year rotation.

The organically farmed crops were fertilized by manure and planted later to avoid weeds as much as possible, Porter said.

“The study touches on a whole bunch of issues,” Porter said. “But the main point is that when it comes to farming, organic farming does seem to have a place. There are producers out there doing it and there are consumers willing to pay a premium.”

The biggest problem for the organic farming techniques was weed control, Porter said, a problem experienced organic farmers have been dealing with for years.

“We’re researchers and novices at this, so I’m sure that some longtime organic farmers could have gotten those yields even higher,” Porter said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program determines standards for organic farming. Compliance with these standards allows food to be labeled organic.

The study was published in the March-April edition of the Agronomy Journal. Porter said a follow-up study delving deeper into the economic feasibility of organic farming would be forthcoming, with a higher price for organic food factored in.

Josh Linehan welcomes comments at [email protected]