Organic Crops have Lower Yields than Conventional Crops

Plant pathologist Steve Savage has analyzed the data from the USDA’s Organic Production Survey (the largest ever survey of organic farming in the United States) and finds that organic yields per acre are substantially lower than the yields of conventional crops.

By far the biggest negative environmental impact of farming comes from deforestation to clear new land for farms.  Lower yields mean more land is necessary to produce the same amount of food, which should make organic food proponents rethink whether or not organics are good for the planet.

An excerpt from Savage’s analysis:

In the vast majority of cases national Organic average yields are moderately to substantially below those of the overall, national average.

Examples for row crops include Winter Wheat 60% of overall average, Corn 71%, Soybeans 66%, Spring Wheat 47% and Rice 59%

Examples for fruits include Grapes 51%, Apples 88%, Almonds 56%, Avocados 62%,Oranges 43%, Strawberries 58%

Examples in Vegetables include Tomatoes 63%, Potatoes 72%, Sweet Corn 79%,Celery 50% and Cabbage 43%

via A Detailed Analysis of US Organic Crops.

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3 Responses to Organic Crops have Lower Yields than Conventional Crops

  1. jonolan says:

    Without going into the potential flaws in the study – some of which were properly noted in the report itself – your premise is subjective.

    That the biggest negative environmental impact of farming comes from deforestation to clear new land for farms is a matter of opinion, not fact. It is easily arguable that the biggest negative environmental impact of farming comes from run-off of water contaminated by artificially high concentration of nitrates. I refer you to the agriculture-caused algae blooms that plague the Mississippi river and delta, and the Gulf of Mexico by way of evidence.

  2. OldStone50 says:

    Or, the biggest negative impact of farming comes from enabling a ridiculously large, ergo destructive, human population size.

    But the unit area productive potential of organic farming is not necessarily revealed by US commercial organic farm practices. There are economic and market forces that push farming in certain directions, not the least of which is the extremely low profit margins that commercial agricultural production provides. Those low margins demand large scale, mechanized, and low labor inputs as well as short-term turn-around on investment. So long as we consider food provenance to be unimportant, and farming to be low-status, undesirable work that is not worth paying for, we will have conditions that are anathema to real organic production and we will be saddled with exploitative agricultural practices.

  3. Steve Savage says:

    First of all, thanks Ramez for the link.

    Jonolan,
    I’ve written about where I would like to see Agriculture go and if we could do that we could solve the gulf issue. See:
    http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-i-hope-will-be-future-of.html

    Old Stone 50,
    With the exception of SubSaharan Africa and the Middle East, most of the world is below to far below replacement rate today. I think we can get to a better place in terms of human population without having to starve our way there. See:

    http://redgreenandblue.org/2010/01/25/looking-beyond-2050-some-interesting-and-disturbing-trends/

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