Organic Is Not the Most Environmentally Friendly Way to Farm

 Contrary to widespread consumer belief, organic farming is not the best way to farm from an environmental point of view. The guiding principle of organic is to rely exclusively on natural inputs.  That was decided early in the 20th century, decades before before the scientific disciplines of toxicology, environmental studies and climate science emerged to inform our understanding of how farming practices impact the environment.  As both farming and science have progressed, there are now several cutting edge agricultural practices which are good for the environment, but difficult or impossible for organic farmers to implement within the constraints of their pre-scientific rules.

From a fascinating post by plant pathologist S.D. Savage, in which he gives six reasons why organic agriculture is not the most environmentally friendly way to farm.

People interested in food policy (PPS590 students, even though your term paper is due tonight, this means you) should read Savage’s post in full, but if you are in a hurry, here are those six reasons:

  1. Sub-optimal pesticide use
  2. A very high carbon footprint for compost
  3. Practical barriers to no-till farming
  4. Difficulties with optimized fertilization
  5. Lower efficiency of land use, and
  6. Lack of a coherent economic model

Savage concludes with the following message for consumers who want to do the right thing:

Between rigorous, science-based regulation, public and private investments in new technology development, and farmer innovation, modern agriculture has been making excellent environmental progress. That trend, not organic, is what we need to encourage.

And with that, Savage’s blog Applied Mythology (see his “About” page for an explanation of the name) goes into my RSS reader and on my blogroll.

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3 comments

  1. Jay

    This guy has no idea what he’s talking about. Making baseless, non-cited claims like this is not very professional nor is lying to students. This man is only thinking in an agricultural economic paradigm and not a sustainable/environmental one. It’s people like him that destroyed our food model to begin with, grow grow grow = money money money. Notice how the word sustainable is not used once during his post, this is because there is nothing sustainable about his opinion. Oh and by the way that’s all this is, is an opinion, there are no studies (that he cited) that support his six false reasons as to why organic growing isn’t the most environmentally friendly.

  2. Rogue-Aider

    Jay, I’m pretty sure that sort of manic buzzword response is one of the best ways to retard progress towards sustainability. Savage’s post, as best I can tell, is that the present practice and guidelines defining “organic” are inconsistent with the principles and desired ends.

    Breaking the jargon/cliches into meaningful principles is one of the purposes of thought and investigation: limiting what is harmful, finding what really works and carrying forward.

    Just saying the magic words isn’t enough.

    Also, if you’re going to fuss about scientific professionalism (citations, sources, evidence, etc), make sure you can spot the differences between things like blog posts, links, and peer-reviewed publications. Unless you think that kind of rash ignorance is sustainable.