jueves, marzo 31, 2011

Organic vindicated, again


Rodale data show organic just as productive, better at building soil

by Tom Philpott

Organic agriculture is a fine luxury for the rich, but it could never feed the world as global population moves to 9 billion.

That's what a lot of powerful people -- including the editors of The Economist -- insist, but the truth could well be the opposite: it might be chemical-intensive agriculture that's the frivolous luxury, and organic that offers us the right technologies in a resource-constrained, ever-warmer near future.

That's the conclusion I draw from the latest data of the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial (FST), which Rodale calls "America's longest running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture." Now, Rodale promotes organic ag, so industrial-minded critics will be tempted to dismiss its data. But that would be wrong -- its test plots have an excellent reputation in the ag research community, and the Institute often collaborates with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Housed on Rodale's 330 acre farm, the FST compares three systems for growing corn and soy, the first two organic and the third conventional: 1) one based on rotating feed crops with perennial forage crops for cows, and fertilizing with manure; 2) another based on rotating grains with cover crops, with fertility coming from nitrogen-fixing legumes; and 3) a system reliant on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Corn comparison.Corn in the organic-legume (left) and conventional (right) system during the dry summer of 1995. Both were planted on the same day, with the same variety but only the conventional corn is showing signs of water stress. Organic corn yields that year were 29 percent higher than those of the conventional corn.Photo and caption: Rodale Institute

Rodale's researchers have been comparing crop yields and taking soil samples on these test plots for 27 years. Their latest findings? The three systems have produced equivalent corn yields over the years, while "soybean yields were the same for the manure and conventional system and only slightly lower for the legume system."

So the old canard about how organic ag produces dramatically less food than chemical ag has been debunked, yet again.

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