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[Article Summarized by Meridian Institute] A new paper, “Comparing the Yields of Organic and Conventional Agriculture,” in the journal Nature, says that a hybrid path in agriculture – one that incorporates both industrial-style production and organic practices – is the best path for feeding nine billion people by 2050 with the fewest regrets. The researchers, a doctoral student, Verena Seufert, and geography professor Navin Ramankutty, both of McGill University, and Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment of the University of Minnesota, found that conventional methods of farming produced 25 percent higher yields than organic techniques, but organic came close for certain crops in certain soils, particularly fruits and many kinds of vegetables and legumes. Major grains, especially staples like rice and wheat, had significantly lower yields when grown organically compared to conventional methods. The core conclusion of the authors was thus: “[T]here are no simple ways to determine a clear ‘winner’ for all possible farming situations. However, instead of continuing the ideologically charged ‘organic versus conventional’ debate, we should systematically evaluate the costs and benefits of different management options. In the end, to achieve sustainable food security we will probably need many different techniques — including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems — to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods for farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture….To establish organic agriculture as an important tool in sustainable food production, the factors limiting organic yields need to be more fully understood, alongside assessments of the many social, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming systems.” Foley, in a written e-mail exchange with The New York Times, added, “The bottom line? Today’s organic farming practices are probably best deployed in fruit and vegetable farms, where growing nutrition (not just bulk calories) is the primary goal. But for delivering sheer calories, especially in our staple crops of wheat, rice, maize, soybeans and so on, conventional farms have the advantage right now. Looking forward, I think we will need to deploy different kinds of practices (especially new, mixed approaches that take the best of organic and conventional farming systems) where they are best suited — geographically, economically, socially, etc.”

Posted April 25th, 2012