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Oct 5, 2011 04:21 AM

Organic farms outperform "conventional" farms

Great article about a 30-year study shows organic farms outperform "conventional" farms by every measure:

BTW, I learned about this article from my farmer's Twitter feed.

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  1. I was excited to read this article (which unfortunately doesn't actually load in my browser -- I had to manually navigate to the website and then do a few searches to find it) but after the lead sentence, was disappointed to find it really only talks about economic benefits to the farmers. The "outperforming" it refers to are the exorbitant costs of organic produce which are passed on to the consumer and end up as profit to the organic farmers.

    Only one sentence passingly refers to crop yields -- that after a three year transition, yields between conventional and organic are "equal" -- but they provide no data in the article to back this up. The rest of the article refers to profits to farmers for organics that are ten times as much as for conventional.

    The devil, it seems, is still in the details. Read the whole article, not just the headline.

    And as always, it is important to consider the source of the research. It was conducted by Rodale, a pro-organic advocacy group, publisher of Organic Gardening Magazine and an underwriter of the Your Organic Garden PBS TV show, among others. Nothing wrong with that but obviously a huge corporation with a vested interest in promoting Organics. Sort of like when a huge pharma co funds a study proving its new wonder drug is safe and effective.

    5 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      They are definitely promoters of organic growing, and they're definitely not a struggling non-profit, but if Rodale is a "huge corporation", I'm Marie of Romania.

      1. re: ellabee

        Rodale Publishing (officially Rodale Inc) is joined at the hip with the Rodale Intitute and has the same CEO. It had estimated revenues of $625 million -- two thirds of a *billion* dollars -- in 2009.

        Glad to meet you, Marie.

        1. re: acgold7

          Rodale is a fairly big publishing company.

          "Huge corporation" = Food Inc keystones Kroger ($81 billion revenues), Archer Daniels Midland ($61.6 billion), Dow $53.6 b, Kraft $49.5 b, Merck $45.9, Tyson $28 billion, General Mills $14 billion, Kellogg and ConAgra $12.4 billion each, Monsanto $10.5 b, Campbell $7.6 billion, Hormel $7.2, Dole $6.9.

          1. re: ellabee

            And if any of those corporations funded a study showing how conventional farming was better we should be equally suspect. But in judging whether a study is valid based upon its funding, I don't think the issue is parsing the semantic differences between "fairly big," "big," "huge," "massive," "ultra," and "mega."

            I guess in an age when the smallest coffee is a tall and smallest olive is a large...

            1. re: acgold7

              The difference in scale, integrity, and political power between Rodale and the giant corps that run the US and global food system is more than a semantic difference.

              Much of the 'independent' ag research conducted at US universities is funded by the food monopoly, and the ag schools are dominated by the factory farm focus.

              Specific criticisms of the study (some of which you've made) are welcome. Blanket skepticism based on a false equivalence between Rodale and the Dow/Dupont/Monsanto/ADM leviathan isn't warranted.

    2. most reviewed studies say organic yields are on average 30% lower than conventional (some crops do better organically than others). this is not to say that organic is bad, just that if it's important to you, you ought to be willing to pay more.

      1. Interesting, but as acgold7 indicated, it is mainly about profitability.

        I don't have the links available, but most of studies that I've read over the years indicate that organic yields are less than non-organic yields. I personally use organic practices in my home garden, though.

        1. I always get worried when an article mentions a study, but doesn't provide a direct link to it so readers can review it first hand. That was the first red flag for me. The others:

          1. Saskatchewan. Seems awfully strange to only focus on that region.
          2. Average net (profit). Income and average is an automatic red flag.
          3. It mentions a U-Minnesota study. It said "less" and over 14 years. Was that the total duration and what's "less?"

          2 Replies
          1. re: ediblover

            And even if you do manage to get to the Rodale Institute website and navigate to their "Full Report," you'll find it isn't much more than the headlines. No raw data is available for analysis and despite what they say about going back 30 years, much of the bigger headlines are drawn from only three years of data, or in some cases seven. Very little goes back 30 years that I could tell, although they make this a little hard to figure out as they mix sources and don't actually compare anything "apples-to-apples."

            I would urge people to read all the material there and make their own judgements.


            1. re: acgold7

              I believe the academic side of this research was done by one prof at Cornell, and he may now have emeritus status.