Monday, 10 October 2011

Organics – it is, or is perhaps not, the answer

Two interesting articles I’ve come across in the past couple of weeks which explore the seemingly age-old question of which is better – organic or non-organic food and production. This seems to be one of those debates which will go on forever, and while the mudslinging (in the UK at least) seems to have abated in recent years, it seems a shame that the two production systems are so often presented as ‘either/or’, diametrically opposing and incapable of existing alongside one another.

Me? I think that both systems have a lot to offer and that more should be done to foster links and share knowledge between them. They can both play a part in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.  I do believe that organic agriculture has a lot to offer in terms of its proponents' and practicioners' better understanding of soil managament and health, in general, than the conventional sector.  Conventional agriculture also has substantial potential, not least it's enthusiasm for embracing new technology, including GM (where caution is definitely needed), which may be viewed with suspicion by organic enthusiasts.

According to this report which quotes Dr Steve Savage from the University of California, organic agriculture will neither save, nor feed, the planet.  In a nutshell, his reasons for this are that the sector is too small, production costs make organic food too expensive and, in general, organic production systems just aren't as productive as conventional ones.

Conversely, however, this article reports on America's longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming practices has come out with some results which appear to contradict the views above.   Originally created to study the transition from conventional to organic production, this 30-year study also examined productivity, soil quality, energy and economics.   Key findings show that organic yields match or surpass conventional yields and outperform them in drought years.   Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, and use 45% less energy than conventional production.   In addition, the report finds that organic farming systems are also more profitable.