Rodale Institute Trial Organic Farming: details on long term yields and costs

"Mark Smallwood, executive director of the Rodale Institute, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit at the forefront of organics research, views organic farming as a collection of sustainable, soil-focused practices. "Conventional farming uses a science called chemistry," says Smallwood. "Organic uses a science called biology. Organic deals with the life of the soil. That's the most important thing. It's the biology that lives in the soil itself." In 1981, the Rodale Institute began the Farming Systems Trial, now the longest-running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture in the world. The study focuses on corn and soybean production, which account for 49 percent of the total cropland in the U.S. After 30 years, the results of the trial are unequivocal. During seasons not marred by drought, the study’s six growing ­systems (two distinct organic systems and one conventional synthetic system, each with till and no-till components) show no ­appreciable ­difference in terms of yields. In years of drought, the organic systems have out-yielded the conventional systems—which mimic large-scale farming—by an average of 31 percent. A 13-year study conducted by Iowa State University backs the Rodale Institute’s findings on both yield and production costs, and a similar 22-year trial out of Cornell University confirms the heavy energy and water savings with ­organic ­approaches. As competition in organic markets increases the availability of organic products grows, organic prices will begin to fall. Backing this claim is another important finding from the Rodale trial. the average yearly cost per acre of maintaining the conventional systems between 2008 and 2010 was $305. For the organic systems, which are less input-sensitive, the average cost per acre was $277

Source: Greg Nichols, "Planet Organic," Ode, July/August 2012. [verified 4/17/14]

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