Recently the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture published a highly publicized study comparing two types of organic farming with two types of conventional farming. Initially (and to the delight of enviros everywhere) newspaper reports claimed conventional farming to be the loser in at least 2 categories: That is, in its economic and environmental efficiency.
However when one pulls up the weeds from the research, one quickly discovers that reporters are playing fast and loose with the facts in order to show that organic farming is indeed more ‘efficient.’ The research actually, in fact, points to an entirely other direction.
Advocates of organic farming claim that the study shows organic farming uses 50 percent less energy. However, this statistic does not take into account that the study also shows conventional farming to be 20 percent more productive than organic farming. Therefore, according to the study’s own conclusions, “since crop yields were considerably higher in the conventional systems, the difference in energy needed to produce a crop unit was only 19 percent lower in the organic systems.”
Another claim of organic advocates is that organic foods are far superior to conventionally produced foods. This study asserts, however, that there were only “minor differences between the farming systems in food quality.”
Also, the study did not test the organic system against the most recent form of conventional farming. No-till farming combined with genetically enhanced crops has been shown to be both better for the environment and more energy efficient than past conventional methods. If this method were placed up against organic farming, the 19 percent energy advantage of organic farming would, according to experts like Ron Baily of the Reason Public Policy Institute, likely disappear.
As for environmental benefits, conventional no till farming also matches the advantages of organic farming; such as less pesticide and fertilizer runoff, greatly reduced soil erosion, and a higher presence of beneficial insects, and it adds the other advantages of conventional farming such as higher yields.
Such higher yields are enormously important. They are not only economically beneficial to consumers in developed countries, but especially vital to the health and well being of those in underdeveloped countries who might well starve without such technology.
Little wonder that many scientists, such as Cambridge chemist John Emsley, believe that “the greatest catastrophe the human race could face this century is not global warming, but a global conversion to ‘organic farming’ [where] an estimated 2 billion people would perish.”