Organic farming is widely perceived to be a healthy, more environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional agricultural techniques. But its role in providing for an increasingly crowded planet remains unclear with its merits hotly contested. New research looks set to refuel the debate revealing yields from organic farming to be, on average, 25% lower than conventionally-farmed produce.
Reporting in the science journal Nature, researchers from Canada's McGill University and the U.S.'s University of Minnesota say that the differences are not uniform across every crop with some performing better than others. The comprehensive analysis of current scientific literature compared 316 organic and conventional crops across 34 species from 62 study sites. Organic cereals and vegetables fared worst with yields 26% and 33% respectively lower than conventional agriculture. But other organic produce fared much better.
Legumes (e.g. soybeans) were 11% lower while fruits were almost comparable with conventional farming with yields just 3% lower.
"I think what we were able to do is identify situations where organic agriculture performs well and situations where (it) is not so good," said co-author Verena Seufert from McGill University. "What we should do is try to address the issues and build systems that achieve high organic yields,"she added.