Being Productive and Profitable while Protecting the Environment

Ines Marjanovic

Agronomy Expert

Interest in organic farming and organic products has been rising steadily over the past several years. Although organic farming only accounts for barely 1% of the global agricultural land, this practice is becoming more and more popular among farmers. The growth of global organic agricultural land is shown on the table below.

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The Difference Between Conventional and Organic Farming

Conventional farm practices are geared mainly towards technological advances such as improved seed varieties, mechanized intensive soil tillage, large-scale irrigation systems, and mono-cropping. Crop protection and soil improvement farm practices rely heavily on the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. The use of chemicals in crop production leads to higher inputs. However, conventional farm practices make farmers' work much easier during all stages of crop production.

While aiming to reach high productivity goals, conventional farmers leave a substantial environmental footprint. For example, excessive irrigation, coupled with the use of chemicals, cause pollutants to penetrate fresh water resources.

On the other hand, organic farm practices rely on sustainable and environmentally friendly farm practices. The use of crop growth regulators, genetically modified organisms, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers is strictly limited or excluded entirely. Therefore, farmers who utilize organic practices rely on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation. Such practices are more labor-intensive for farmers, but the inputs are much lower than in conventional farming.

Managing Productivity and Profitability in both Farming Types

While the practices of both conventional and organic farming can be debated, farmers are mostly concerned about the productivity and profitability of each.

Farm productivity depends on many factors, including crop characteristics, soil type, weather conditions, and insect pests and diseases, among others. Conventional farming is believed to be more productive than organic. However, higher input costs and lower market price does affect its profitability.

If we take a closer look at the yields, organic farming is still less productive than conventional. One reason for this is the fact that organic farming boosts crop growth, while conventional farming eliminates potential crop damages.

There are some examples showing organic farming as holding great potential for adequate yields. Research conducted by the Rodale Institute proved that organically grown corn has a yield that is 31% higher than conventionally grown corn during years of drought.

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Finally, organic farming has shown to be an efficient practice in spite of typical lower yields. One reason for the efficiency of organic production is the higher market price that organically grown crops can demand. Certified organic products tend to be more expensive for public purchase than their conventional counterparts. The main reason for this significant price difference is the limited supply of organic products available, leading to higher market demand.

Because of lower production inputs, higher demand for organic products, and higher prices that can be charged, organic farmers may achieve a comparable amount of efficiency, becoming a strong and capable market competitor to the conventional farmer opponent.

 

Text and image sources: FAO || World Watch Institute || Rodale Institute || FIBL & IFOAM - Organics International || Rodale Institute