12 Reasons Why Organic Agriculture CAN Feed the World

12 Reasons Why Organic Agriculture CAN Feed the World post image

The highly respected Rodale Institute has been quietly comparing organic vs. conventional growing methods for that past 30 years in a study called “Farming Systems Trial” and recently published their conclusions. Certainly organic is better tasting and healthier than conventional produce. But they found other, much more compelling reasons to switch to organic in their study.

What they found in their 30 year side by side study of organic vs. conventional methods was that by far the greatest benefit was sustainability.

Mark Smallwood, the executive director of the Rodale Institute was quoted as saying,…” If we’re looking to feed the world for the next 150 years, conventional can do it. But if we are looking at feeding the world for the next 1500 years, we must switch over to organic.”

Here are 12 reasons why:

1 — Soil health is key to sustainability. Organic farmers nurture and feed their soil with natural substances so that the microbial community is healthy. This is a key to crop health.

In contrast, conventional ag relies on artificial fertilizers that are dependent on crude oil.

2 — Petroleum product usage differs greatly in the two models. Conventional ag uses nitrogen based fertilizers which are not used at all on organic farms. There is 41% greater petroleum usage by conventional ag.

While both models use diesel fuel to power tractors and other equipment, organic farms produce 40% less greenhouse gas emissions because of the natural fertilizers used in the organic model.

3 —  Organic produce is actually cheaper to to grow because they do not need to buy expensive fertilizers and pesticides (something the likes of Monsanto and friends disparage and are desperately trying to sabotage).

It is more expensive to buy organic produce because of the principle of supply and demand — there just aren’t enough organic farms right now.

4 — The model of small organic farms is one that also grows a more diverse array of crops as opposed to the monocrop culture of conventional farming. This also allows the soil to rebuild itself in a natural way, while monocrops  deplete the soil.

5 — In times of challenging growing conditions it was found that the organic crops actually produced higher yields than the conventional crops.

6 — Farmers who cultivated GM varieties earned less money over a 14-year period than those who continued to grow non-GM crops according to a study from the University of Minnesota. There are 197 species of herbicide- resistant weeds, many of which can be linked directly back to GM crops, and the list keeps growing. GM crops have led to an explosion in herbicide use as resistant crops continue to emerge. In response to this, the EPA approved a 20-fold increase in how much glyphosate (Roundup®) residue is allowed in our food.

Pesticides commonly used in agriculture have been found in drinking water, sometimes at levels above regulatory thresholds. The EPA has required testing of less than 1% of the chemicals currently in commerce.

8 — Agroecological farming methods could double global food production in just 10 years, according to a report from the United Nations. Agroecological practices, like organic practices, attempt to mimic natural processes and rely on the biology of the soil and environment rather than synthetic sprays and other inputs.

9 –Numerous independent studies have shown that small scale, organic farming is the best option for feeding the world now and in the future. Not only does it produce competitive yields in a healthy and sustainable way as the Rodale study has shown, it also supports local communities and cultures.

10 — Organic agriculture promotes job creation, providing for more than 30% more jobs per hectare than non-organic farms, according to a report from the United Nations. The addition of on-farm processing and direct marketing, two practices fostered in organic systems, further increases the opportunities for job creation.

11 — The organic systems used 45% less energy than the conventional systems. Diesel fuel was the single greatest energy input in the organic systems. Nitrogen fertilizer was the single greatest energy input in the conventional systems representing 41% of the total energy.

12 — Our food production system is impacting human health in a very negative way. More than 17,000 pesticide products for agricultural and non-agricultural use are currently on the market. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to brain and central nervous system disruption, breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach and other cancers.

It is clear that this important study conducted over 30 years by the Rodale Institute shows that organic agriculture can operate in a sustainable manner for the next generation and the generations that will come after. Now we just have to prove that humane animal husbandry can do the same.


Rodale Institute

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Leave a Comment

  • Pavil, the Uber Noob October 14, 2011, 1:57 pm

    Any endeavor that exploits natural resources, should be called mining not farming.

    Ciao, Pavil

    • Jill October 14, 2011, 9:07 pm

      Well said!

  • Katherine October 18, 2011, 6:30 pm

    I think Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm is well on the way to proving the point on animal husbandry.

    • Jill October 18, 2011, 7:02 pm

      Hi Katherine,
      Yes, and I hope others will emulate his model.

  • Anonymous October 19, 2011, 1:52 am

    Thank you for getting the word out! It is an uphill battle and all voices are appreciated.

  • Jeff Jones October 19, 2011, 11:40 am

    No mention of the single most precious resource on the planet and the one that conventional and organic agriculture use the most of: Water. No mention of severe shifting of climate attributes to most of our “growing regions” in the form of drought/flood cycles that inhibit any form of field production. Please, Rodale institute, turn down the Peter,Paul and Mary record and open the window to get rid of some of the smoke in your “research room” and check the IPCC report on agriculture. Also, my last point; organic field production relies on manure for the bulk of it’s nitrogen input, to “feed the world” (7 Billion) you would need a herd of cows/cattle that would require more fresh water than is available currently just to satisfy them and the crops with none left for anything (or anyone) else. Scientists from the IPCC have determined that the majority of Europe, north America, china and India will be uninhabitable for the production of field crops by 2040. (they are also being very generous in this assessment)

    • Bebe April 18, 2012, 1:09 pm

      In a diversified farming model you would be combining animal and plant production on every farming operation. The standard “field production” model is what’s broken. Monocropping. Plowing. Overhead irrigation.It is responsible for topsoil erosion and loss and a dramatic overuse of water for irrigation, as well as polluting the natural capital (air, water and soil) that is considered *free*. It is time for a new model.
      Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm provides an excellent example of a new (old) model. Paul Gautschi’s Back to Eden DVD is also an excellent example of how to minimize both of the needs you address: water and fertilizer.

  • arun December 2, 2014, 5:07 am

    Great piece of writing, I really liked the way you highlighted some really important and significant points. Thanks so much, I appreciate your work.

    Organic input for agriculture