Is Organic Farming Superior to Conventional farming?

There are some definite upsides that come with organic farming. But, is it really superior to conventional farming methods?

Well,

here I explore what organic farming represents for consumers, growers, humanity, and the planet.

Organic Farming and Global Food Demand

The global population has quadrupled in the last century to reach 7.3 billion people. According to the most recent estimate by UN, we may reach 9.7 billion people by 2050.

Subsequently, the demand for food is expected to increase by 59 – 98% at that time.

This will no doubt shape the fresh produce market and add fuel to the continuing debate of which production system is better.

Remember this quote?

“Before we go back to organic agriculture in this country, somebody must decide which 50 million Americans we are going to let starve or go hungry.”

That were utterances by the then US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz.

Since then, people all over the world continue to argue whether organic farming is superior to conventional farming, and whether it offers a solution to food security.

Some argue that organic farming is inefficient due to its low yield per unit area.

Some praise organic for being more productive, economically profitable, environmentally sound, and socially just.

Sadly, there is a lot of propaganda supporting methods that are rarely understood.

It’s even freaking crazy that some of the propaganda is surrounded by myths, cheap lies, and outright lies.

Let’s check them out.

 

Organic Farming: Facts, Myths, Lies, and Outright lies

Use of pesticides

Organic farming

Perception that organic farms are free from pesticide is baseless

Outright lie: Organic farming involves no pesticide use.

In a UK study, 95% of consumers said their top reason why they buy organic was to avoid pesticides.

Fact: organic farming like conventional farming uses pesticides to deter critters from destroying the crops.

Furthermore, there are over 18 chemicals used in the growing of organic crops that are approved by United States Organic Standards.

According to National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, The two top organic fungicides are copper and sulfur.

Most of these pesticides are even used more than their synthetic counterparts due to their lack of ineffectiveness.

What’s worse, some organic farms are such by certification not by practice.

Some don’t spray and some spray at least twice a week.

So, what makes organic farms different?

It’s not that they don’t spray pesticides. It’s the origin of their pesticides.

Most approved organic pesticides are derived from natural sources.

But natural is not always better, safe and non-toxic. Many bacteria, fungi, and plants which are all natural produce poisons, toxins, and chemicals that you definitely wouldn’t want to spray on your food.

Would you?

Deterring critters from your crops is not the only menace you have to deal with to guarantee that your food is free from harmful organisms.

No.

There’s more.

Organic foods tend to be more contaminated with higher levels of harmful pathogens, for example, E. coli and Salmonella. This is so probably, due to the use of more manure instead of artificial manure.

Remember, most pathogens are spread through fecal contamination.

Studies actually prove this.

One of the studies, for instance, found E.coli in produce from close to 10% of organic farm samples as opposed to only 2% of conventional ones.

Conventional uses manure too but, a balance is struck because of the availability of other non-organic components.

Next time you buy organic, you’ll know what you’re up against.

But pesticide-free is not realistic and don’t be deceived.

In fact, some organic farms spray as frequently as conventional ones.

The only difference is, organic farms are certified and their food is labeled organic!

 

Environmental Friendliness

Lie: Organic farming is ecologically friendly and better for the environment.

Fact: It’s not.

Let me admit, organic farming discourages the use of synthetic chemicals that are damaging to the environment.

But wait, Rotenone is considered an effective organic pesticide because it’s natural in origin. It occurs in the roots and stems of a small number of subtropical plants.

Research, however, proves rotenone is a dangerous substance that kills by attacking the mitochondria of any living cells.

This pesticide isn’t only effective in controlling the target pests but non-target pest species as well which is ecologically damaging.

What could be worse?

Besides, proponents of organic farming seek to boost crop yields, improve farming practices while reducing synthetic chemical use, and increase nutritional value.

Which is a really good point in endeavoring to protect the environment.

But yet, the same organic proponents refuse to give Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) a chance. That is despite the fact that GMOs seeks to address the same concerns.

For example, organic farmers apply Bacillus thuringiesis (Bt) toxin unsparingly across their crops. It’s one of the most widely used organic pesticides by organic farmers.

Yet, when genetic engineering is used to place the gene encoding the Bt toxin into a plant’s genome, the resulting GM plants are vilified by the very people willing to unsparingly spray the exact same toxin that the gene encodes for over the exact same species of plant.

Ecologically, the GMO is a far better solution, as it reduces the amount of toxin being used and thus leeching into the surrounding landscape and waterways.

GMOs further seeks to produce resistant plant varieties. Which means fewer pesticides, less pollution.

In short, organic farming is not the best for the environment, GMOs are – at least in this context.

 

Nutritious, healthy, Poison-free Foods

Myth: Organic foods are the most nutritious and healthy foods.

Fact: There’s some truth, but science is yet to find any evidence to support the myth.

It’s even estimated that scientists have been comparing whether organic foods are more nutritious than conventional for over 50 years.

I wonder how much time they still need to finally burst this bubble.

However, some studies have been able to demonstrate that there’s actually a difference in elementary composition of organic foods.

Here’s the catch,

Conventionally produced foods have more nitrogen levels, while organic ones have higher phosphorus and acidity.

To my understanding, none of this stuff denotes superiority in nutrition.

This statement below by Joseph D. Rosen, Emeritus Professor of food toxicology at Rutgers summarizes the whole point.

The point,

“Any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money,”

Furthermore, in the same survey where 95% of UK organic consumers said they buy organic to avoid pesticides, 2/3 of the same responded said organic also tastes better.

But when given food to taste while blindfolded, they couldn’t tell the difference between the two!

To cut the long story short,

Organic farming has so many benefits. Such as conserving biodiversity on farms to move away from monocultures, minimizing energy use, and definitely, profitable but producing foods that are tastier and healthier simply isn’t one of them.

 

 

It’s either organic farming or nothing

Lie: You have to buy into one side, organic or conventional

Fact: You don’t

Here’s why,

Proponents and fanatics of organic farming might want to shoot me dead right now.

But let me make one thing clear, I’m not against organic farming whatsoever. Far from it.

All I’m saying is that there’s an old adage that goes, ‘to solve a big problem, you’ll be required to attack it from both sides.’

Therefore, it’s important to approach the issue of production from all angles whether organic or not.

My point is not to underrate the immense benefits of organic farming.

It’s mere to point out that it’s not as black and white as it looks.

According to Christie Wilcox of Mythbusting 101, until organic farming can produce crops on par in terms of volume with conventional methods, it cannot be considered a viable option for the majority of the world.

And especially in Africa, where cheap, quality food of any kind, is still an issue.

Where, WHO estimates that close to 7 million children die before their fifth birthday every year, and a third of these deaths are associated with undernutrition.

And that, One in three developing country children under the age of five (160 million children) are stunted due to chronic undernutrition, while another 99 million children are underweight.

Nutritionally speaking, organic food is more like a brand name or luxury item. It’s great if you can afford the higher price and want to have it, but it’s not a panacea.

You would improve your nutritional intake far more by eating a larger volume of fruits and vegetables than by eating organic ones instead of conventionally produced ones.

What worries me, is that people take sides.

You are either pro-organic or not and as such, we perceive the other production systems as villainous.

 

Conclusion

You, the wise and intelligent consumer, don’t have to buy into either side’s propaganda and polarize to one end or another.

You can, instead, be somewhere along the spectrum, and encourage both ends to listen up and work together to improve our global food resources and act sustainably.

Choose, to appreciate the advantages of rotating crops and how GMOs might improve output and nutrition.

Because let’s face it, the more we choose sides and spread propaganda, a child somewhere dies before his/her fifth birthday.

It doesn’t matter whether organic farming is superior to conventional farming, we can borrow best practices from each method.

What are your views?

17 comments

  • Christopher says:

    No information about the ever-increasing need to use MORE pesticides on GMOs? Really NOT viable for me.

  • zero budget natural farming is much better than organic farming which many farmers have started in india yiedig results.it is cost effective no need to buy costly organic fertilisers.yield is twice the chemical fertiliser .meagre cost has to be incurred ..I my self is ZBNF in india.

  • Sagar Jalgaonkar says:

    I would say yes, as Our Aquaponics Technology which has been reviewed by United Nation gives commercial production of Organic Food Farming in line to address few global concerns.

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  • Your article is cherry-picking problems with the organic system. Yes there are issues, and some farmers can follow the letter of the law and be certified while caring only as much as they have to for environmental quality and food quality. On the other hand, many organic farmers DO care about these issues.

    Your whole argument that organic farms are not more environmentally friendly is based on an example of a single pesticide that some farmers use that is harmful.

    If you spend time on organic vegetable farms and eat that produce side by side with some of the conventional produce you find in the supermarket, you will taste the difference.

    • yes you are right Diego. I would recommend the autor to try any organic product himself, so he can understand the difference.

      • D Elphinstone says:

        We used to do blind taste testing with our students, to see if they could taste the difference between conventional and organically grown produce. We did these trials for years – and conventional produce was voted (95% of the time) tastier than the organic produce.

        There were, I believe, a number of reasons why that was so:
        Tomatoes – the potassium was probably higher in the hydroponic tomatoes as oppose to soil grown organic.
        Sweetcorn – this had to travel from halfway around the world – to get organic produce.
        Carrots – no idea, but conventional were frequently voted tastier or preferred, it is possible that the organic version actually had a stronger taste, but most people were not accustomed to a carrot being that strong.

        We are bombarded with the converted who are convinced that organic tastes better, but give them blind taste testing, and as the article states, people can not tell the difference.

  • Clinton Cheek says:

    Either way, one town, to “cherry pick” has zero interest in organic produce. Corpus Christi, Tx. I’ve tried, no response or totally negative. Someone please get me out of this city so I can at least grow something worthwhile.

  • SH Hong says:

    It seems the rich country, the country who has far more enough land to produce food demand of her people, the country where food production per every year is more than self – sufficient, the subject of organic farming is discussed as the most important one, even it is also being talked in a certain country who has self-sufficient rate is below 30 %, that might be influenced by rich people in the country.

    I would like to recommend refer the book of Dr. Keith C. Barrons, 1981, ” Are pesticides Really Necessary ? “, by
    Regnery Gateway, INC.

    Argue could be followed, however, there is no urgent discussion on organic farming compared with conventional method,
    nutritive and better taste of organic than conventional produce, environmentally friendliness and etc., at the under developed country and poor in farming technology, short of resources of fertilizer and chemical for protection, not enough land space to feed her people.

  • This sounds very much like an industrial farming industry advertisement. What about the soil biology which is destroyed by pesticides? What about the research done on carbon sequestration. What about the lack of research into the toxicity of pesticides used in industrial agriculture? What about the differences in BRIX levels? I can go on and on. One more and please answer Monsanto and Bayer, what about the glyphosphate levels in my grandchild’s umbilical fluid?

  • Jeremy Obermeyer says:

    You forgot to mention how gmo’s are causing cancer in people!

  • Jordan Strickler says:

    Science has been proven that GMOs do not actually cause cancer. GMOs are not people at Monsanto (personally not a fan of them) injecting fruit with chemicals to make them bigger. GMOs are things such as seedless watermelon, apples (any apples, natural/wild apples are basically crabapples), and many other every day products that you eat maybe not even knowing they are GMOs.

    I believe the science that says global warming is real, and I also believe the science that says that GMOs do not cause cancer.

  • If you are growing flowers to export, like the author, then their appearance is the vital factor, so I can understand why conventional chemical agriculture would make sense to you. But there’s a big difference between recognizing this practical fact and drawing a global conclusion about whether organic or industrial ag is the better way to “feed the world.”
    This is a poorly-argued polemic, filled with half truths and bigger myths than the ones it purports to debunk. When you talk about “organic,” it’s important to say where and which kind you are talking about. In the Global South, organic yields are consistently higher than conventional. This is also true when crops are under stress, e.g. from drought. The actual record of contamination and foodborne illness outbreaks shows that organic foods are superior to conventional in terms of food safety. The fact that organic pesticides are used in some organic systems does not mean they are somehow the same as the far more deadly and persistent ones used in industrial farming. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a huge study done through UNEP and the World Bank, has a balanced account of these and other issues related to organic performance. It’s easy to find online.
    One thing that the author could have said is that organic is NOT NECESSARILY superior in all respects to industrial ag, because there are a lot of different models of organic. He focuses on industrial organic, which essentially follows industrial ag’s chemical intensive, highly-mechanized approach, but substitutes some non-synthetic inputs for synthetic ones. Farm workers in industrial organic have lower pesticide exposure, but are not necessarily treated any better than other farm workers. And food grown in these systems may not be that different from conventional industrial food, aside from being produced with much less environmental harm and having fewer pesticides residues. Smaller-scale and agroecological organic, sometimes under other names like permaculture or biodynamic ag or Zero Budget, tend to take a different approach. They are entirely modeled on ecological processes and cycles, and focus on reducing or eliminating the use of inputs. For instance, they maintain fertility more through green mulches, rotation, manuring and composting instead of buying chemical fertilizers at all. And they use other agronomic practices (relying on natural predators or parasites or plant defenses) to control pests. They are diverse, not monocultural. These systems consistently out-perform industrial ag in yield per unit area, but tend to be more labor intensive. But because they require far fewer inputs, they tend to be more profitable than their conventional counterparts.
    Most importantly, the whole premise of the article is the canard that the world will starve if we don’t have huge yield increases by 2050. We have almost a billion people hungry right now, but we produce far more food than we need to feed everyone. People go hungry because they don’t have access to food, not because we have failed to hit some global calorie production target. Most of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and many are themselves farmers. Small-scale, ecological organic farming (agroecology), with its far lower production costs and superior adaptation to local conditions and resilience in the face of weather variability, is in many cases a better way to ensure that these people can feed themselves and have a surplus to sell than trying to make them go into debt to imitate Iowa corn farmers. many organizations of peasants and small farmers around the world are moving in this direction. But ultimately it’s their choice.

  • The article seems to be quite short on both the facts of organic and chemical farming and evidence to support any claims. Many generalizations are made, mainly about pesticides, for example, without any reference to what organic farmers are supposed to be doing what. Over and over all of organic farming is given guilt by association what the claims of what some organic farmers are doing (all with no documentation). The biggest lie may be that of Earl Butz, who was known to make wild statements (standing on the peak of the much higher prices of 1973-4 he claimed that no farm bill would be needed, as prices would stay up, even with greater production, but history has massively proved him wrong (prices have gone down, down, down). No pesticides are needed in the organic farming we have here because crop rotations and other methods, (i.e. ridge till,) prevent weeds, insects, etc., while chemical corn and soybeans tend to continue the conditions for pests and pest resistance. Rodale’s decades of research found greater yields with organic, due to greater storage of carbon, and the resulting greater productivity on drought years. That’s in spite of many many times more research and extension and corporate support and media support to help chemical farmers. We fought for decades to get the Land Grant Universities to tell about organic farming, but they rejected it without knowing about it, even laughing in farmers faces, (but without any evidence to support their claims, [as there wasn’t any,] just ideology). Finally Iowa State University, for one, started an organic program, and started research on organic farms. One result is that organic corn has been cheaper to produce per bushel than chemical corn. Finally, the “feed the world claims here are also invalid. People are hungry primarily because of poverty, primarily from cheap farm prices, so primarily from overproduction, not underproduction. When farmers can get paid more for organic, that helps.

  • I am very fortunate to work in the machinery industry and as such have daily interaction with both conventional and organic food/feed/fuel producers of all sizes and shapes.

    What I notice is that you can not be average and be successful at organics whereas almost anyone with a farm background can farm conventionally.

    Successful organic farmers seem to be able to steadily improve profit per acre and their soils become easier to manage over time.
    Conventional farms are spending more and needing to farm more acres to maintain yield and profit.

    Recently we worked with a large Ohio turkey producer who has reduced his feed costs and feed volume by 24% and his flock health costs by over 50% by switching to organic grain production.

    My own experiences span a lifetime in the industry. I grew up organic in the sense that we seldom used herbicides and very little purchased fertilizer. Became educated and learned the art of chemical farming and now finding myself working my way back to where I started. Not because I am for or against one of the other practice but because I observe sustainability and economic advantages resulting from the reduction in the use of “icides” and commercial mined fertilizers.
    My parents were more profitable on a per acre basis farming old school than my brother and I were using the latest and greatest technology and information.
    There are lesson’s to be learned by looking back which will help us see the way forward.
    JB

  • Suman Udawat says:

    I do not want go with the arguements of Organic food is better or bad. But I want to know whether chemical farming is more sustainable than organic farming. Certainly not, and we need the sustainable food growth to feed the increasing population. Everybody knows about the harmful effects of chemicals in agriculture. It is increasing cost of cultivation even GM cotton is failling its claim of chemical cost control. Now Bt cotton boll gaurd one variety get resistance and fail to control boll worm. Cotton Bt variety with boll gaurd two is widely used by the farmers and loss due to other sucking pest dramatically increased.

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