The sustainability of organic farming is built on the price premium that organic products command.
Considered by many as an inefficient means to producing food, organic agriculture has a contentious history.

Those contentions ought be dispelled by two pieces of published scientific research.

30-year study conducted by the Rodale Institute concluded that organic farms outperform conventional farms in seven ways. They found organic farms to be more profitable, no less productive and more efficient than conventional farms. They also produce more resilient crops, build healthier soils, keep toxic chemicals out of the environment and create more jobs.

organic-farm-bigThat’s a long list of sustainability advantages and leads me to wonder why conventional, large-scale industrial farming systems continue to grow.

Another study, completed early this year by researchers at Washington State University, looked at 40 years worth of global scientific research papers on organic growing systems.

Their methodology examined the performance of organic horticulture systems against four key sustainability measures.

Those measures are productivity, environmental impact, economic viability and social acceptability.

Their analysis represented 55 crops in 14 countries on five continents.

Reganold Wächter reportThey found that organic horticulture systems had a lesser productivity compared to conventional agriculture. However, that difference was a function of the crop, growing conditions and management practices.  Given the right agroecological conditions, the productivity gap could be reduced.

Further, under severe drought conditions, something that is expected to increase as a consequence of climate change, organically managed farms frequently achieve higher yields than conventional methods.

Despite generally lower yields, organic systems were found to be more profitable and environmentally friendly, and delivered more nutritious foods that contained less or no pesticide residues, compared with conventionally grown foods.

So it is clear that organic agricultural systems deliver greater ecosystem and social benefits.

The authors see organic agriculture having an untapped potential for the establishment of sustainable farming systems.

That potential has been acted on in Scotland where the Scottish Organic Forum has developed a Scottish Organic Action Plan. Their aim is to strengthen the country’s organic food sector so that it can make a more significant contribution to their food and drink economy.

In that Scottish approach is a way forward for New Zealand to add more value to our primary produce.

Our dairy industry for example, is under scrutiny today on all four sustainability measures.

The productivity of our dairy farms is lower than many other countries forcing the industry to seek ways to increase milk returns per unit of land. Increasing stocking densities to increase productivity, is having a negative impact on water quality and on social acceptability. And the economic viability of our dairy farms is compromised given the low prices paid in international commodity markets.

The sustainability of organic farming is built on the price premium that organic products command. So given our clean, green comparative advantage, organics seems a more obvious route to increasing prosperity than commodity competition.