Cost and the Yield of Organic Farming

Sally Painter
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Organic agriculture could solve the world hunger crisis.

Cost and the yield of organic farming have long been debated. Many studies have been conducted to determine what is myth and what is truth.

Myths: Cost and the Yield of Organic Farming

There are still many people who believe that the organics cost too much for the yield to be worth your time. Growing organic vegetables doesn't need to cost any more than conventional farming. In many cases, your expenditure can be less.

Your Organic Garden: Calculating the Cost

If this is your first time growing an organic garden then be prepared for a higher cost versus yield ratio. First year gardens need more amendments to build-up the soil and get you on a solid foundation for organic growing. Next year the cost will be less and so on. Once your compost pile matures and begins to cycle you'll be producing free soil amendment from last season's crop.

Assessing Your Soil: Determines Amendment Cost

Your county's agriculture department can conduct a soil analysis of your garden site with a nutrients and minerals report. This helps you assess what soil amendments to add to the soil.

Cost-Cutting Tip

One of the biggest savings in the cost of your garden is cutting out the time needed to care for your crops.

Mulch for Weed Control

Use a biodegradable mulch system to reap a garden of fewer weeds and labor time. Weeds compete for the same nutrients your vegetables need and can impact yield. Prevent weeds with good organic mulch:

  • Sawdust, and peat moss - Best for pathways
  • Hay or straw
  • Pine needles
  • Partially decomposed leaves
  • Hulls and ground corncobs, partially decomposed
  • Bark and wood chips
  • Newspapers printed with vegetable dye (most newspapers are printed with vegetable dye but check with the newspaper company before using.)
    • Use only black and white paper.
    • Discard the slick and colored papers.
    • Cover with a thick layer of pine straw or hay.
    • This method will also hold in moisture.

    Other Factors That Determine Cost

    One factor that determines crop yield that you can't control is the weather. Your garden can be excelling beyond expectations when there's a two-week stretch of endless rain. Suddenly, your wonderful tomato yield is destroyed by dry rot fungi bred in the wet soil. This can happen to conventional and organic gardens alike.Crop loss due to pests can also create an imbalance in the cost versus yield ratio. This can be controlled but requires vigilance, effort and research for the best organic solutions. It could be as simple as introducing a predatory insect into your garden.

    Organic Farming Yields and World Hunger

    Some claim organic farming as a means of relieving world hunger is cost prohibitive with crop yields too low to support the overwhelming demand. That view is changing.

    Putting It to the Test

    The University of Michigan's scientific team decided to put the argument to the test. The study was published in 2007 with the scientists concluding that organic agriculture's yield is comparable to conventional farming.

    Two Models Used

    The scientists created two models for the study:

    Model 1 examined yield ratios based on studies done in developed countries and the entire agricultural land base of the planet.

    Results: Organic crop yield same as current food available

    Daily Caloric Yield: 2,641 (Average daily adult requirement - 2,200 - 2,500 calories) 94.8% of current conventional farming yield

    Model 2 examined yield ratios for developed and developing countries.

    Results: Organic crop yield gained 1.3 - 2.9

    Daily Caloric Yield: 4,381 157.3% of current conventional farming yield

    Both models had a gain: Reduction in fossil fuel and elimination of conventional agriculture chemical damage to the environment.

    The final conclusion of both models: Organic farming can sustain the world and the current population but more importantly; it can also supply a growing population's needs. No additional agricultural land would be needed to make the switch from conventional farming to organic farming. The use of legume as a cover crop or green manure can supply all of the needed nitrogen to the crops.

    Organic Vs. Certified Organic

    One of the important factors in the Michigan study is while the models were for organic agriculture; they weren't based on certified organic standards.

    Other Scientists Take a Look

    Other scientists have analyzed the results of the Michigan study and many feel the organic yield estimates are conservative.

    The final benefit is organic agriculture's natural resilience to climate changes. Organic crops produce better in drought conditions than conventional crops.

    Switching from conventional farming to a world organic agriculture would reduce the carbon emissions and the environmental damage created by pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

    Other Studies

    There are other studies that verify many of the Michigan scientists' findings.

    The results from a 2005 study stated organic crop yields were an average of 20% less than conventional farms. However, the organic farms required 50% less energy than conventional farms. Not only did organic farms require less energy, but the organic farming process created nutrient-rich land.
    A first year organic garden will have a higher cost.

    Cornell University Review

    Cornell University reviewed the 22-year Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial of organic farming versus conventional farming. Organic crops used 30% less fossil fuels and conserved more water. There was less erosion than conventional farming. During drought years, organic crop yields were 22% higher than conventionally-grown crops.

    United Nations: Food and Agricultural Organization

    In 2007, the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) published a report which praised organic farming as a vibrant commercial agricultural system.

  • 120 countries practice organic agriculture
  • 31 million hectares (76,602,668.254 acres) of cultivated land
  • 62 million hectares (153,205,336.509 acres) certified wild harvests

What It Means For You

It has long been argued that organic farming is not the most cost-effective way to produce food based on its yield ratio. These cited studies and others demonstrate the cost and the yield of organic farming is as viable as conventional farming.

Cost and the Yield of Organic Farming