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Organic farms produce the same yields as conventional farms

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A 22-year farming trial study which was funded by the Rodale Institute and included a review of current literature on organic and conventional agriculture comparisons, has resulted in dozens of scientific papers published in prestigious refereed journals over the past 20 years, according to Pimentel. This study has been reviewed in Cornell Chronicles here.

The study states that Organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as conventional farming, but uses 30 percent less energy, less water, and no pesticides. It examines the environmental, energy, and economic costs and benefits of organic versus conventional farming of soybeans and corn in the US. The study is a review of the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial, which is the longest-running comparison of organic versus conventional farming in the United States.

The study compared a conventional farm that used recommended fertilizer and pesticide applications with an organic animal-based farm (where manure was applied) and an organic legume-based farm (that used a three-year rotation of hairy vetch/corn and rye/soybeans and wheat). The two organic systems received no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

The study aimed to compare soil fungi activity, crop yields, energy efficiency, costs, organic matter changes over time, nitrogen accumulation, and nitrate leaching between organic and conventional agricultural systems.

Although organic corn yields were about one-third lower during the first four years of the study, the organic systems eventually produced higher yields, particularly during drought conditions. This was due to the degradation of soil on the conventional farm due to wind and water erosion, while the soil on the organic farms steadily improved in organic matter, moisture, microbial activity, and other soil quality indicators.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • In the drought years, 1988 to 1998, corn yields in the legume-based system were 22 percent higher than yields in the conventional system.
  • The soil nitrogen levels in the organic farming systems increased by 8 to 15 percent. Nitrate leaching was about equivalent in the organic and conventional farming systems.
  • Organic farming reduced local and regional groundwater pollution by not applying agricultural chemicals.
  • The study also revealed that organic agriculture systems absorb and retain significant amounts of carbon in the soil, which has implications for global warming. Soil carbon in the organic systems increased by 15 to 28 percent, the equivalent of taking about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per hectare out of the air.

But cash crops cannot be grown as frequently over time on organic farms due to the need to rely on cultural practices to supply nutrients and control pests. Additionally, labor costs average about 15 percent higher in organic farming systems. However, the higher prices that organic foods command in the marketplace still make the net economic return per acre either equal to or higher than conventionally produced crops.

The study, which was funded by the Rodale Institute and included a review of current literature on organic and conventional agriculture comparisons, has resulted in dozens of scientific papers published in prestigious refereed journals over the past 20 years.

Another study

According to a meta-analysis conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, organic farms produce yields that are only 19.2% lower than those of conventional farms. This difference in yield is negligible, particularly when you consider the numerous benefits of organic farming.

One of the most significant advantages of organic farming is that it is more sustainable than conventional farming. Organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which can be harmful to the environment and contribute to soil degradation. Instead, they rely on natural methods such as crop rotation, cover crops, and the use of natural predators to control pests. This results in healthier soil and a more diverse ecosystem, which is better able to support long-term agricultural productivity.

In addition to being more sustainable, organic farming can also be more profitable than conventional farming. Organic produce commands a premium price in many markets, which can offset the slightly lower yields. In fact, according to a study by the USDA, the average net return per acre for organic farming was $558 in 2016, compared to $471 for conventional farming.

Finally, organic farming can also provide significant health benefits for both farmers and consumers. Because organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, their crops are free from harmful chemicals that can accumulate in the food chain. This means that organic produce is often more nutritious and can be safer to eat.


In conclusion, the idea that organic farms cannot produce yields comparable to conventional farms is a myth. Recent studies have shown that organic farms can produce similar yields while also providing numerous environmental, economic, and health benefits. As more consumers become aware of the advantages of organic farming, it is likely that we will see an increase in the number of organic farms and a shift towards more sustainable and responsible agricultural practices.

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