Organic agriculture key to feeding the world sustainably

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The full article was originally written for the Science Daily

Washington State University researchers have concluded that feeding a growing global population with sustainability goals in mind is possible. Their review of hundreds of published studies provides evidence that organic farming can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment and be safer for farm workers.

The review study, “Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century,” is featured as the cover story for February issue of the journal Nature Plants and was authored by John Reganold, WSU regents professor of soil science and agroecology and doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter. It is the first such study to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences: productivity, economics, environment, and community well being.

“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic ag should play a role in feeding the world” said Reganold, lead author of the study. “Thirty years ago, there were just a couple handfuls of studies comparing organic agriculture with conventional. In the last 15 years, these kinds of studies have skyrocketed.”

Organic production currently accounts for only one percent of global agricultural land, despite rapid growth in the last two decades.

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. The review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods.

“In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils,” Reganold said.

However, even when yields may be lower, organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices can be justified as a way to compensate farmers for providing ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.

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Organic agriculture key to feeding the world sustainably