A new a study from McGill University and the University of Minnesota published in the journal Nature compared organic and conventional yields from 66 studies and over 300 trials. Researchers found that on average, conventional systems out-yielded organic farms by 25%--mostly for grains, and depending on conditions.
Embracing the current conventional wisdom, the authors argue for a combination of conventional and organic farming to meet "the twin challenge of feeding a growing population, with rising demand for meat and high-calorie diets, while simultaneously minimizing its global environmental impacts."
Unfortunately, neither the study nor the conventional wisdom addresses the real cause of hunger.
Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 1/2 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That's enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day--most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land--can't afford to buy this food.
In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the one billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.
But what about the contentious "yield gap" between conventional and organic farming?
Actually, what this new study does tell us is how much smaller the yield gap is between organic and conventional farming than what critics of organic agriculture have assumed. In fact, for many crops and in many instances, it is minimal. With new advances in seed breeding for organic systems, and with the transition of commercial organic farms to diversified farming systems that have been shown to "overyield," this yield gap will close even further.
Rodale, the longest-running side-by-side study comparing 1 conventional chemical agriculture with organic methods (now 47 years), found organic yields match conventional in good years and outperform them under drought conditions and environmental distress--a critical property as climate change increasingly serves up extreme weather conditions. Moreover, agroecological practices (basically, farming like a diversified...