Often seen as irrelevant to global food needs, and dismissed as a middle class fad, organic farming could be our best hope for feeding 7.5 billion people on a planet increasingly plagued by droughts. That’s the finding of a new study by John Reganold and Jonathan M. Wachter from Washington State University.
The study, which is an analysis of more than 100 research studies into organic farming, acknowledges that organic yields are lower than chemically-intensive farming methods. However, the gap is not as great as had been supposed. Moreover, with improved rotation methods and less focus on monocrops, organic yields can be driven up.
But the greatest promise of organic farming is in areas afflicted by drought, where:
“organically managed farms have frequently been shown to produce higher yields than their conventional counterparts.”
This is thought to be due to the manures used for fertiliser, which trap both moisture and additional carbon in the soil; the opposite of what happens using intensive agricultural methods.
In the longer-term, organic farming methods are the only means of restoring soil. In the UK, for example, we have less than 100 harvests left. Even today, our depleted soil requires £82 million in chemical fertilisers to replace the nutrients lost to intensive agriculture; a cost that is unsustainable.