Systematic overview of more than 100 studies comparing organic and conventional farming finds that the crop yields of organic agriculture are higher than previously thought. The study, conducted by UC Berkeley researchers, also found that certain practices could further shrink the productivity gap between organic crops and conventional farming.
The study, published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, tackles the lingering perception that organic farming, while offering an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemically intensive agriculture, cannot produce food to satisfy the world’s appetite.
“In terms of comparing productivity between the two techniques, this paper sets the record straight on the comparison between organic and conventional agriculture,” said the study’s senior author, Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute.
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 115 studies—a dataset three times greater than previously published work—comparing organic and conventional agriculture. They found that organic yields are about 19.2 percent lower than conventional ones, a smaller difference than in previous estimates.
But the researchers found no significant differences in organic and conventional yields for leguminous crops, such as beans, peas and lentils, for instance.
The researchers also said that incorporating practices such as multi-cropping and crop rotations could reduce the organic to conventional yield gap to 8 percent.