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[nafex] FW: organic works - the evidence




----------
From: kathryn marsh
To: OGL@LSV.UKY.EDU
Subject: organic works - the evidence
Date: Fri, Apr 20, 2001, 3:24 AM


from todays "Nature"

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   policy: Green apples upset cart       TOM CLARKE

   A study of apple farming published today finds that organic
orchards can be more profitable, produce  tastier fruit at similar
yields compared to  conventional farming, and be better for the
environment at the same time1.
   John Reganold and colleagues at Washington State  University in
Pullman farmed three experimental
   plots of Golden Delicious apples (Malus x domestica) using organic,
conventional and
  'integrated' growing methods.
  Although the organic system took longer to reach profitability, it
ranked first in terms of environmental
  sustainability, profitability and energy efficiency by the end of
the six-year study. Integrated farming,
  which reduces the use of chemicals by combining  organic and
conventional production methods, came
  second, conventional farming last.

   What's more, untrained tasters rated the organic apples the sweetest.

  "This is one of the first well-replicated rigorous   experiments
that's looked at all of the benefits and costs involved in an
alternative framing  practice," says David Tilman, who works on
sustainable development at the University of  Minnesota in St Paul.
   "We kept track of everything that went in," says Reganold. By
recording inputs of compost, chemicals and even the amount of fuel
used by farming machinery, Reganold's team produced an
'environmental impact assessment' for each growing method.
   Critics say organic farming is based more on ideology than on
environmental or economic merit2 .
  They also worry that because organic farming is often more energy
intensive and produces lower  yields than conventional methods it may
place an even higher burden on the environment.

  Although Reganold's study finds that this is certainly not the case
for growing Golden Delicious  in Washington, it does not necessarily
imply that organic farming is more environmentally and  economically
sound for other types of agriculture in other regions, he admits.

                            Dennis Avery, director of the Center for
Global Food Issues in Churchville, Virginia argues that  this is a
persistent problem with research hailing the benefits of organic
systems.

    "The real issue of sustainability doesn't have a lot to do with
intensive fruit and vegetable    production," says Avery. He argues
that it is the large-scale production of staple crops like  wheat,
corn, rice and wood that have the greatest impact on whether or not
agriculture is environmentally and economically sustainable and that
organic methods cannot produce sufficient  yields in these crop
systems to compete with conventional methods. "Organic field crops
are 50 to 60 percent less productive per acre," says Avery.

  But organic farming experts argue that if there was as much research
into 'alternative' farming
  practices as there is into conventional ones, the muddy boot could
be on the other foot when it   comes to the sustainability of organic
farming.

  "The research input that goes into organic farming is so small that
I just get irritated at people who are trying to make comparisons
between the two systems when there isn't a level playing  field,"
says Martin Wolfe, an organic farming researcher at Wakelyns
Agroforestry in Suffolk,  UK.

    Alternative farming practices could lose their unscientific "muck
and luck" image if there were more thorough studies into organic
methods such as Reganold's, says Wolfe. "As more of a scientific
spotlight plays on what is occurring, in most cases it will emerge
that organic farming is  coming up with the goods."



    1.Reganold, J. P., Glover, J. D., Andrews, P. K., Hinman, H. R.
Sustainability of three apple
  production systems. Nature 410, 926-930 (2001).

    2.Trewavas, A. Urban myths of organic farming. Nature 410, 409-410
(2001).

   3.Drinkwater, L. E., Wagoner, P. & Sarrantonio, M. Legume-based
cropping systems have
   reduced carbon and nitrogen losses. Nature 396, 262-265 (1998).


                                               Macmillan Magazines
Ltd 2001 - NATURE NEWS SERVICE


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