Organic farming is ‘only 60% as efficient’ as agriculture enhanced by pesticides

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Organic farming is ‘only 60 per cent as efficient’ as agriculture enhanced by pesticides

Researchers find much more land would be needed if country switched to 100 per cent organic

Tuesday, 22nd October 2019, 6:27 pm
Updated agriculture enhanced by pesticides and other artificial aids, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at the likely impact of converting all existing crop and livestock farmland in England and Wales into organic agriculture and found that it would yield 40 per cent less food than it does at the moment.

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Although the study didn’t look at Scotland or Northern Ireland, the researchers said the findings broadly applied to the whole of the UK.

The UK already imports about 40 per cent of the food it consumes and the switch to organic-only domestic production would significantly increase the country’s reliance on overseas farmers.

Organic farming in the minority

‘Organic farming is only 60 per cent as efficient as agriculture enhanced by pesticides and other artificial aids’ (Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty)

Less than 3 per cent of UK farmland is organic. Making all the farmland in England and Wales organic would reduce the total agricultural emissions of those countries by 20 per cent for crops and 4 per cent for livestock.

However, outsourcing lost production overseas would have the effect of pushing up the total greenhouse emissions generated by the farmland of England and Wales by 70 per cent.

“Although resource use can be improved under organic management, there is a need to consider the potential effect on land-use. Under a 100 per cent organic scenario…a net reduction in greenhouse gases would only be achievable if accompanied by a major increase in organic yields or widespread changes to national diets,” said report co-author Laurence Smith.

He was at Cranfield when he conducted the research, which also involved Reading University, but has since moved to Royal Agricultural University.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Soil Association’s response

Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, said: “The assumptions behind the study’s conclusion that there will be a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions under organic are fundamentally flawed.

“The study assumes no change in diet, which is clearly untenable given the global dietary health crisis, and that we would keep diverting most of our cropland to over-production of the wrong things – livestock feed, commodity crops for processed food and biofuels,” he added.

“We’ve known for years that dietary change – a move towards ‘more and better’ plants and ‘less and better’ meat – will benefit the public’s health and free up land, making an organic scenario entirely feasible. In particular, we need to stop feeding so many crops to animals – 58 per cent of cereals and 68 per cent of oilseed crops currently – this means eating less intensively produced grain-fed poultry and pork.