Organic crops as productive as conventional

March 26, 2008

Can organic cropping systems be as productive as conventional systems? The answer is an unqualified, “Yes” for alfalfa or wheat and a qualified “Yes most of the time” for corn and soybeans according to research reported by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and agricultural consulting firm AGSTAT in the March-April 2008 issue of Agronomy Journal.

The researchers primarily based their answer on results from the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials, conducted for 13 years (1990-2002) at Arlington, WI and 8 years (1990-1997) at Elkhorn, WI. These trials compared six cropping systems (three cash grain and three forage based crops) ranging from diverse, organic systems to less diverse, conventional systems. The cash grain systems were 1) conventional continuous corn, 2) conventional corn-soybean, and 3) organic corn-soybean-wheat where the wheat included a leguminous cover crop. The three forage based systems were 1) conventional corn-alfalfa-alfalfa-alfalfa, 2) organic corn-oats-alfalfa-alfalfa, and 3) rotationally grazed pasture.

In this research they found that: organic forage crops yielded as much or more dry matter as their conventional counterparts with quality sufficient to produce as much milk as the conventional systems; and organic grain crops: corn, soybean, and winter wheat produced 90% as well as their conventionally managed counterparts. In spite of some climatic differences and a large difference in soil drainage between the two sites, the relatively small difference in the way the cropping systems performed suggested that these results are widely applicable across prairie-derived soils in the U.S. upper Midwest. The researchers also compared their results to other data analysis done on this topic in the U.S. Midwest.

Although researchers found that diverse, low-input/organic cropping systems were as productive as conventional systems most of the time, there is a need for further research, according to the study’s author Dr. Joshua L. Posner, University of Wisconsin.

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), is a scientific society helping its 8,000+ members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy by supporting professional growth and science policy initiatives, and by providing quality, research-based publications and a variety of member services.


3 Responses to “Organic crops as productive as conventional”

  1. aspirantlocavore Says:

    hi, cool post. i felt compelled to reply because i recently went to india (i’m from south africa) on a study tour. i am doing my Masters thesis on the fact that organic farming is cheaper for small-scale farmers than conventional or GM. but all the farmers we spoke to said that their yields under organic farming are higher than they were when they were farming with chemicals…
    they almost seemed to find it weird that i would ask them about that.
    lovely to see it in practice there…

  2. annierichardson Says:

    What a great masters thesis! Please let us know what you learn. You may want to check out an article entitled, “Special Report: The death of food as we know it” in this months issue of The Economist.
    In my day job I work with a lot of families from various parts of Africa and tell me the same thing you are saying about your experience in India. There is a deep and special connection to the land. It is truly lovely.

  3. aspirantlocavore Says:

    hi annie, thanks for the kind words! i think it’s a pretty awesome masters topic too. i am basing my evidence on what small-scale farmers in india told me and trying to draw inferences for africa. a lot of people are saying that africa needs to have the second green revolution… i am hoping to address this in some way. will def keep you posted. and thanks for the link. 😉 it’s awesome to be making contact with like-minded people in cyberspace.

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