Organic farming and crop yields

Low crop yields and lack of organic nitrogen sources have been the arguement of many corporations involved in agriculture when rejecting organic farming methods as the way of the future to feed the world.

Perhaps they may be bending the truth somewhat? After all, agricultural chemicals and fertilizers are a multi-billion dollar industry, so there’s a lot at stake.

According to Researchers from the University of Michigan in developed countries yields are almost equal on organic and conventional farms. The researchers claim that in developing countries, crop yield could double, perhaps even triple using organic methods.

One of the big problems with the use of artificially made fertilizers and the application of is that they damage the land. For example, as mentioned in my post yesterday; earthworms can be a victim – and earthworms play a vital role in soil fertility. As the land becomes more damaged, more chemicals are needed to sustain a crop until it gets to a point where it goes from fertile to toxic – and nothing can grow.

The researchers found that by planting “green manures” between growing seasons and then plowing them into the ground, enough nitrogen would be available to replace synthetic fertilizers. I was taught back in my high school agricultural classes that crops such as peas and other legumes were an excellent way to replenish soil nitrogen levels *and* grow a useful crop at the same time.

These are basic crop rotation principles – i.e. the practice of growing different crops in the same space over different seasons. One crop takes something out of the soil, so you plant a different crop that after harvesting can be plowed back into the paddock to replenish that element.

Not only is this a good method of fertilizing whilst financially benefiting from a cash crop, it also helps to reduce the pests and disease that often become established in an area when the same crop is grown continuously. It can also help reduce soil erosion by having ground cover practically all year round.

I’m no farmer, but I was taught these things back in the early 80’s as part of general school curriculum – I’m really surprised these practices aren’t standard by now. But again, it’s likely down to greedy companies convincing farmers that they need to use X or Y chemicals to ensure a good crop yield. By the way, did you know that many nitrogen based fertilizers are made from natural gas or coal? Scary stuff – we’re actually eating fossil fuel.

It’s all rather sad really; particularly when you consider how many millions of acres of once productive farmland has now been destroyed along with farmers’livelihoods.

The overuse of agricultural chemicals reminds me a little of drug addiction whereby over time more of the drug is needed to produce the same effect, until in the end it destroys the addict. Drug dealers go to jail – perhaps some of these agricultural chemical companies need the same sort of treatment.

Read more of the University of Michigan report – “Organic farming can feed the world” (also available as a podcast).