Yields from organic farming may not match those produced by farmers who use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but there are other good reasons to buy and support organic–its health benefits, the good that it does for farm workers, even its animal-welfare rules.
So, at least, say executives of the Organic Trade Association, a Washington-based group that represents about 6,500 organic farmers, producers, retailers and suppliers.
“Yield is only one window into organic farming,” says Laura Batcha, executive vice president of the trade group. Organic farming is “good for the environment. It’s good for local economies. It’s good for the farmer incomes.”A 2008 USDA survey of organic production found that organic farms had average annual sales of $217,675, compared to the $134,807 average for U.S. farms overall. Overall, the US organic industry, including fiber as well as food, generated about $31 billion in 2011, up from just $1 billion in 1990. Despite the US’s sluggish economy, organic food and farming remain growth businesses.
I went to see Laura and Christine Bushway, who is CEO of the organic trade group, at their offices on Capitol Hill to talk about several issues, including the push to require labels on food containing genetically-modified organisms, the Farm Bill and food safety, including a recent incident of mad cow disease in California. But we talked a lot about yields because it’s in the news: A recent survey of 66 research studies published in Nature, which found that organic yields lag those of conventional farming, has stirred up a bit of a brouhaha. [See my blogpost Organic food is not as green as you think, and the comments.]
Yield is an environmental issue, of course. As demand for food increases on a planet with limited resources, we’ll want to use of land, water and other inputs efficently. But, as Laura Batcha notes, maximizing yield is not the only way to feed today’s global population of 7 billion, which is expected to grow to 9 billion. “Poverty drives hunger. War drives poverty,” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated that bushels per acre out of Iowa.” We can also eat lower on the food chain (more vegetables, less meat), reduce food waste, stop growing corn for ethanol, etc. [click to continue...]