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RESEARCH IMPLICATIONS OF
A PARADIGM SHIFT IN AGRICULTURE:
THE CASE OF ORGANIC FARMING
This paper is published by the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies of the Australian National University as:
Resource and Environmental Studies No. 12.
Copyright: Els Wynen
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Interest in organic agriculture is increasing in many parts of the world. Those involved with organic agriculture often (implicitly or explicitly) assume that it is a different form ('system', 'paradigm') of agriculture from conventional farming. Those involved with the mainstream forms of agriculture (called conventional agriculture here) mostly assume otherwise.
Settling the question of whether organic and conventional agricultural systems are similar or different is important for policy. Given that organic farming in Australia is becoming more accepted and recognised as having desirable characteristics, redirection of (some) research funding towards this form of agriculture might well be considered.
An important factor in determining funding of research within a paradigm is the expected net returns. In the case of a new technology, those returns are dependent not only on the costs and benefits per person adopting it, but also on the number of (potential) adopters, and the socio/economic environment in which it occurs. Within a paradigm, projects compete with one another for funding.
By definition, a new paradigm explains the world better than the existing paradigm. In other words, solutions to problems can be found which are more satisfactory (and therefore less costly) than solutions found previously. It follows that, in theory, projects within the new paradigm can have higher expected benefit/cost ratios in the long-run than those in the old paradigm. Comparing benefit/costs ratios for projects in two different paradigms is therefore not an appropriate way to determine research priorities.
To get to the essence of these matters, Section 2 is devoted to the issue of what is an agricultural system or paradigm. In Section 3 the classification of organic and conventional agriculture is explored; and in Section 4 the salient features of a paradigm are revisited and analysed in relation to organic and conventional farming. In Section 5 the policy implications of the classification are discussed, in terms of both technical and socio-economic research; and in Section 6 the paper is summarised.
The word 'system' is used in many ways in agriculture. It can be used to identify the physical unit under consideration (such as field or farm, irrigated or dryland). The definition is discussed further in Section 2.1. It can also be used to indicate the basis of the assumptions underlying research (that is, the paradigm). This is discussed in Section 2.2.
Spedding (1988) defines a system as '... a group of interacting components, operating together for a common purpose, capable of reacting as a whole to external stimuli: it is unaffected directly by its own outputs and has a specified boundary based on the inclusion of all significant feedbacks.' Within this framework, the list of units which can be seen as a 'system' can be endless, depending on the objective of the analysis.
Lynam and Herdt (1989) see the conceptual problem of defining a system as one of specifying the boundaries of the system and the relevant time period. The boundaries are seen as being dependent on the level at which the system is considered (plant, crop, farm, or regional, national or international marketing system). Most levels are influenced by exogenous factors (such as weather and prices of inputs and outputs), which may restrict the ability to determine whether characteristics of the system (such as sustainability) are endogenous or exogenous to it.
Even when the level of consideration has been decided, the term 'system' can be used in many ways. For example, if the farm were to be taken as the relevant unit of a system, different farm enterprises (such as cereal-livestock or dairy) could be considered as different farming systems. Similarly, within one enterprise, a large difference in certain input use (such as water) could lead to the classification of different systems, for example dryland and irrigated cereal-livestock farming.
In the discussion so far only physical units were mentioned in reference to the word 'system'. However, there is a different, less tangible, dimension to agriculture: the approach to farming. This comes close to what Kuhn (1970) calls a paradigm.
Kuhn (1970), in his seminal work on paradigms 'The Structure of Scientific Revolution' first published in 1962, defines paradigms (or 'normal science') as '...research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundations for its further practice' (p.10). Scientists conduct research within the existing paradigm. This is the 'world view' in which they define and test hypothesis and interpret data. A paradigm and its rules, as revealed in textbooks, lectures and laboratory exercises, limit the nature of acceptable solutions and the steps by which they are to be obtained.
Although Kuhn's (1970) discussion on paradigm shifts are related to science, in this paper an analogy is made with agriculture. Subsequent theories have been advanced on the topic of paradigm shifts or progress (for a review see Riggs (1992)), but they are not pursued here.
Kuhn opines that there is no 'proof' which shows that a new theory is the beginning of a new paradigm. But a typical process of a paradigm shift goes as follows: 'normal science' is starting to be troubled by crises. Such crises are due to phenomena which cannot be explained by the theory on which the science of the day is based. 'Normal science' is constructed in such a way that a new paradigm (that is, a new 'science' with its own theories, rules and assumptions) is resisted by most scientists. That is, anomalies are considered as another piece of the 'puzzle' which has not yet been solved but will in time, within the existing paradigm. Anomalies are never seen as disproving the universal application of existing theories. In order to cope with them, 'ad hoc' modifications are made to 'normal science'.
In the meanwhile, a different theory is developed which, in the beginning, can only explain some of the questions posed. Some scientists take the step towards the new theory, which means an adjustment to the principles which are the basis of their research. Different questions are asked, solutions are sought in different ways from previously. Specialised journals and societies appear. Claims are made for a special place in the curriculum of education institutions. A discussion between the two competing paradigms is never quite satisfactory, as theories are incommensurable ('having no common standard of comparison', Macquarie 1981) and proponents of each camp base their arguments on different assumptions and priorities. Over time textbooks are written, the new ideas are popularised, more scientists take the step, and slowly the new paradigm becomes 'normal science', displacing the old paradigm.
An example of a paradigm shift in biology is Darwin's evolution by natural selection. It recognised, indeed derived its inspiration from the capacity of a species to change over time. The previous paradigm maintained that a species was invariant, remaining constant from its day of creation. Individual variation was simply 'noise in the system' and not worthy of serious study. In the Darwinian paradigm variation within and between populations has become central to scientific investigations and has been responsible for the emergence of new disciplines like genetics, and eventually bio-technology. Although Darwin faced many sceptics at first, indeed for many years, his theories have become accepted, albeit not universally. Similarly, some theories have lived for some time, and have died a natural death (for example, alchemy). In other words, paradigms are not 'true' or 'false'; their survival depends on their heuristic value.
As it is not possible to prove whether a new theory will lead to a new paradigm which displaces the dominant form, the salient points of difference between organic and conventional farming are examined, both in definition and in effect. Whether and how the development of organic farming conforms to the pattern of a paradigm shift is the topic of a further chapter.
Agriculture is the production of food and fibre. In that process use is made of knowledge gathered in a number of disciplines such as chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, entomology, mycology and genetics and their interactions. Agriculture is therefore not a science as discussed by Kuhn (1970), but it is a management system based on a variety of factors, including knowledge gained within the sciences.
Organic agriculture is frequently dismissed as 'merely a philosophy - not based on science'. However, all farmers bring with them skills and experiences that influence the way in which they perceive the world in general, and farming in particular. They necessarily bring a 'philosophy' to farming which is the basis of their practice. A better way to express the difference might therefore be that conventional farming is based on principles established within the current scientific paradigm, while organic farming does not enjoy such a base (as yet?).
The observations and experiences of organic farmers are as valid as those of conventional farmers. Explanations for organic farmers' observations, although not always clear at present, could well be found in the future. Approaching research from a different angle, or with tools which are not yet available (for example, developed within a different paradigm), could shed completely different light on these observations. It is proposed in this paper that science based on different assumptions, such as the importance of interactions between biological processes, might well lead to completely different conclusions from the facts as established within current scientific methods.
The question is therefore not whether one management system is based on a philosophy without scientific basis, while the other is taken to be based on science. The question is whether the differences between organic and conventional farming requires a slight adjustment in approach, or the acknowledgment of different paradigms which, by definition, are incommensurable (see Section 4.7).
Characteristics of conventional and organic farming are considered in Section 3.2. As it is often assumed that the application or non-use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides is the main difference, special attention is devoted to this issue in Section 3.3. Considering differences between organic and conventional farming can include looking at differences in the effect of the farming methods on some variables. In Section 3.4 production functions and transition time are examined. Some more characteristics of organic farming are discussed in Section 3.5.
To discuss the differences between organic and conventional agriculture, a summary of the characteristics of each can be useful.
By conventional agriculture is meant the form of agriculture practised by the majority of farmers in developed countries, for example in Australia. Of particular relevance here is a reliance on synthetic fertilisers for plant nutrition, and synthetic pesticides for protection against pests and diseases. The availability of these inputs made it possible to concentrate on those enterprises on the farm with the highest profits, without running into immediate problems of nutrient deficiencies and pest damage. It led to the development towards monocultures and the use of relatively large machinery. This kind of agriculture is therefore characterised by relatively intensive use of off-farm, manufactured inputs (fertilisers, pesticides, machinery) and is dependent on suppliers of such inputs (for actual uses of those inputs in the Australian cereal-livestock industry, see Wynen 1989a; and the dairy industry, see Wynen 1994a; figures for many other countries can be found in Lampkin and Padel 1994). The emphasis of the management system is on the treatment of problems once they (are expected to) occur.
In Australia, the word 'conservation farming' is applied to farming where pesticides, rather than cultivations, are used as the main weed management tool. In this paper this kind of management is included in 'conventional agriculture'.
One of the early and best-known definitions of organic agriculture makes reference both to inputs to be excluded and to positive measures which need to be taken in order to be able to cope with soil fertility and potential pest problems. In 1980 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defined organic agriculture as:
'...a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds, and other pests'.
Harwood (1993) notes that the USDA-report includes a sentence which '... clearly identified the central element, the thread that ties biological production systems together.'. The sentence reads:
'The concept of the soil as a living system which must be "fed" in a way that does not restrict the activities of beneficial organisms necessary for recycling nutrients and producing humus is central to this definition.'.
In many countries a similar definition is accepted. The Australian National Standards for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce, adopted by the Organic Producers Advisory Committee (OPAC) in 1992, defines organic / bio-dynamic as:
'...produced in soils of enhanced biological activity, determined by the humus level, crumb structure and feeder root development, such that plants are fed through the ecosystem and not primarily through soluble fertilisers added to the soil. Plants grown in such systems take up essential soluble salts that are released from humus colloids, at a rate governed by warmth. In this system, the metabolism of the plant and its ability to assimilate nutrients is not overstressed by excessive uptake of soluble salts in the soil water (such as nitrates). Organic farming systems rely to the maximum extent feasible upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, mechanical cultivation, approved mineral bearing rocks and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients and to control insects, weeds and other pests.'
At present (early 1996) the first part of this definition is under revision. The new version is likely to reflect similar ideas as expressed in the USDA definition.
Thus, the aim of organic farming is to use inputs (including materials and management practices) in such a way that the biological processes of available nutrients and defences against pests are encouraged. The resource 'nature' is manipulated to encourage processes which help to raise and maintain farm productivity. More specifically, preventative actions to protect farm crops and livestock include crop rotations, strip cropping, manipulation of seeding rate and planting date, stock culling programs which emphasise genetic resistance against certain diseases, judicious stock buying programs, and limited paddock size (see, for example, Wynen and Fritz 1987, Lampkin 1990). In the words of Spedding (1988) '... organic farming has come to mean both an attitude of mind and a set of farming practices. Both are characterised by encouragement of favourable biological cycles and avoidance of "chemical" fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and animal feed additives'. Lampkin (1990, p.5) mentions that the organic approach gives '... an indication of the underlying view of the soil as a living system that the farmer, in harmony with nature, should seek to develop'. This view is often referred to as holistic. Off-farm inputs are used to a lesser degree on organic farms than on conventional farms; some, such as nutrients, are used in a less treated (processed) form. This characteristic makes the farmer less dependent on off-farm inputs, as a change in enterprise-mix can provide some inputs, such as nitrogen, by other means.
Organic agriculture, as described above, is known under different names in different countries, such as ecological, biological and sustainable. In this paper the word 'organic' is used, which also includes 'bio-dynamic' agriculture. For more details about bio-dynamic farming see, for example, Koepf et al. (1976). Permaculture, although often thought to be part of organic farming, is not necessarily connected. It is a design technique, which leans towards the avoidance of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, although that is not a precondition.
The exclusion of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in organic farming is sometimes queried on the basis that these inputs can be identical to 'organic' inputs. However, it is outside the scope of this paper to discuss the reasons why certain inputs and practices are acceptable in organic management and others are not. Suffices here to say that organic farming is not about substituting 'organic' for synthetic substances, but tackling the whole farm system in order to cope with soil fertility and pest issues in a way that maintains the soil as a living organism.
In summary, although it is too simplistic to say that conventional farming follows a formula-approach and treats symptoms of problems rather than causes, that is closer to being true than it is in the case of organic farming. Many single techniques used in either farming system are similar. In fact, there are few, if any, techniques practised on organic farms which cannot be used on conventional farms. However, what differentiates the systems is the focus of the approach. Under the organic system, there is a stronger focus on maintaining and improving the overall health of the individual farm's soil-microbe-plant-animal system (expressed in less attacks of pests and diseases). These differences on emphasis of those techniques result in differences of effect on the environment on and off the farm. The shift in emphasis from treating symptoms to preventing problems brings with it the necessity to shift research towards biological processes and their interactions. Examples are discussed in Section 5.2.
In this paper the focus is on those characteristics which are related to the farm unit itself, and which are usually included in the certification process in which a farm is judged to be organic or otherwise. As mentioned, in organic farming management practices which enhances the capacity of the natural environment to deal with fertility and pest problems, while excluding the use of certain inputs, are emphasised. However, many of those involved with organic agriculture consider also the following issues as important:
- energy-efficiency (rather than efficiency of labour or land, in which productivity is commonly measured), discussed extensively by Pimentel and Pimentel (1986);
- social characteristics as incorporated in, and surveyed by, for example, Beus and Dunlap (1990; 1991); and as discussed by Allen (1995);
- off-farm environmental effects such as described in Wynen and Fritz (1987) and Wynen and Edwards (1990).
In this paper these issues are not addressed further.
We should not leave this topic before discussing the notion, common amongst many people, that the difference between organic and conventional farming is determined by the difference in input use (that is, no synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in organic farming). As mentioned, though exclusion of these inputs in the production process is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient condition to be classified as an organic farm. Organic licensing organisations generally require evidence of actively managing soil fertility and pest matters other than by using synthetic fertilisers and pesticides (for Australian conditions see the National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce (Organic Produce Advisory Committee 1992, Annex 1)).
However, it is still useful to examine this issue in more detail here, as it is often used as 'proof' that conventional and organic farming are one and the same 'system'. The argument goes as follows: as the quantity used of these substances in organic and conventional farming is located on a continuum (from intensive to non-use), it follows that organic and conventional farming belong to one system, being on different parts of a continuum. A variation on the theme is that there are so many different agricultural systems (defined by levels of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides used) that '...the use of "conventional" ... to classify all farmers other than those practising organic systems has little value in framing analysis or policy debate ...' (Marshall 1991, p.284).
There are two main problems with this argument. The first has already been discussed and needs no further attention: the argument constitutes an insufficient condition for the classification of a farm as organic.
The second problem is that, with framing the problem of determination in this way, the answer is known a priori. Whatever forms of agriculture are measured in this way, somewhere between 0 and 100 per cent synthetic fertilisers and pesticides is used in all of them. They therefore automatically classify as 'the same system', hence not warranting differentiation for policy purposes. Obviously, a measuring stick which, by definition, cannot differentiate between systems cannot seriously be considered as the right tool for determining whether there is a difference.
The picture gets even more confusing when some organic farmers use more of the prohibited substances than a conventional farmer. For example, if an organic farmer buys stock off-farm, which then turn out to be infested with lice, a farmer might choose to use a licicide as a short-term measure. Keeping within guidelines, such an action might result in only the livestock being decertified (registered as non-organic), while the farm as a whole (with the exception of the livestock and the 'holding paddock') is still certified as organic. If the total inputs of such a farmer are compared to those of the conventional farmer who in that particular year used no pesticides on livestock, it might appear as if the organic farmer uses more pesticides than the conventional farmer. However, closer scrutiny should reveal that, for the particular enterprise, the farmer is not classified as organic at that point in time.
It seems reasonable to assume that input use and output within a particular farm system are in some way related; it could be linearly, exponentially or, most likely, with declining marginal effect.
The production function of synthetic fertilisers is likely to exhibit diminishing marginal returns. With a zero rate of nutrient use, yields are expected to be low. With increasing application rates, yield first increases at an increasing rate, subsequently at a decreasing rate and, when over-fertilisation occurs, falls.
The production function of pesticides could be somewhat different. Pesticides, like pharmaceutical products, have recommended rates. According to pesticide companies pesticides work at certain rates, and are considerably less, or not, effective if lower rates are used. Higher rates can result in toxic effects, where the crop or animal (to be protected from the pest) is adversely affected. However, anecdotal evidence and recent research carried out into the effects of different application rates (dose levels) in Sweden and Denmark suggests that, in many years, considerably lower rates than the officially recommended doses can be effective in keeping weeds and diseases within acceptable levels (see Wynen 1994b and 1994c).
Experience with organic farming shows that avoidance of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides does not need to result in disastrous reduction of output levels, as is likely to happen on strips of crop on conventional farms which have missed out on the application of those inputs. For example, Table 1 shows inputs used and wheat yields obtained on seven Australian organic cereal-livestock farms and a conventionally farming neighbour. The survey was carried out for the year 1985-86 in South-eastern Australia (Wynen 1989a). One conventional and five organic farmers did not apply any off-farm bought nutrients; all conventional and none of the organic farmers used synthetic pesticides (expenditure by organic farmers on this input would have been on substances allowed under organic standards). The organic farmers had all farmed organically for at least five years, with an average of 20 years, so that residual effects from synthetic fertilisers and pesticides used in the past are unlikely. Despite considerably less nutrient and pesticide input on the organic farms, yields were similar. Three of the seven organic farmers showed higher yields than their neighbour. It seems therefore quite possible, even likely, that there are different forces at work on organic farms from those we have assumed within the conventional system.
Table 1: Inputs used and yields on seven pairs of cereal‑livestock farms in
South-eastern Australia (1985‑86)
Pair Farm type Nutrients Pesticide Yield
(kgs/ha) (kgs/ha) $/ha (t/ha)
1 Conventional 20.2 10.1 16.44 2.7
Organic 7.9 5.9 0.22 2.0
2 Conventional 10.7 20.7 2.04 2.0
Organic 0.0 16.5 0.06 2.3
3 Conventional 64.4 0.0 13.82 4.0
Organic 0.0 0.0 1.22 4.2
4 Conventional 3.9 7.5 16.29 2.8
Organic 0.0 0.0 0.37 1.7
5 Conventional 28.5 0.0 30.45 2.2
Organic 0.0 0.0 0.00 2.1
6 Conventional 0.0 0.0 11.59 1.4
Organic 0.0 0.0 0.00 2.3
7 Conventional 22.4 20.9 10.27 2.6
Organic 0.0 0.0 0.75 2.0
Average conventional 21.4 8.4 14.4 2.5
Average organic 1.1 3.2 0.4 2.4
The remarks in Section 3.4.1 are based on information about established organic farms. The literature differentiates between farms in transition towards organic management and established organic farms. The reason for this differentiation is that differences in results (yields, returns to farming) often occur (see Wynen 1992 and Lampkin and Padel 1994).
Although, in general, a transition period seems almost a prerequisite when a shift in system takes place, establishing the occurrence of a transition period does not necessarily prove the existence of a different paradigm. A different technique within conventional agriculture can also require a transition period. For example, Rhizoctonia infestations examined under conditions of minimum tillage and conventional cultivation were shown to be worst in the fourth year of minimum tillage, with a subsequent decrease (Slee 1995). Similarly, Australian organic cereal-livestock producers have reported that it took some years for crop stubble to break down easily (Wynen 1989a, p.90). This meant that, in the first years of transition to organic methods, major problems were experienced with machinery clogging up at planting time. In later years this problem disappeared. Some suggest that factors such as '...wetter seasons, lighter stubbles as yield decreased, more disease or increased skills in handling stubbles as farmers gain experience' could explain the faster stubble breakdown in later years (J. Angus, CSIRO, personal communication, March 1996). However, the different farmers had converted to organic farming in different years, which makes wet years in all cases some years after conversion (and consistently afterwards) not very likely. Higher yields initially after conversion with sustained decreases in later years are not borne out by the four documented cases of comparative wheat and barley yields as recorded by Wynen (1989a, pp.138-145). Although it is likely that skill in handling stubble increases over time, none of the farmers thought that that was an important enough factor to mention it as a possible explanation. Many assumed that the reason for the delayed improvement was due to the time it takes for micro-organisms, which presumably break down the straw, to build up.
The reason for the transition period when moving towards organic farming is that a number of aspects are in flux during that time. The ones most often mentioned are the adaptation to the new system of:
- farm manager;
- soil micro-organisms;
- marketing channels.
Only the adaptation of the soil micro-organisms is likely to be relevant in relation to the new paradigm, as the other two factors would be important in any change.
Differences between organic and conventional agriculture occur not only in use of inputs as such, but these inputs can also be seen as representing different categories of goods and services: public and private goods.
As mentioned above, instead of using synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, organic producers rely inter alia on management practices such as:
- crop rotations;
- the production of organic material to be used for the build‑up of soil structure and fertility;
- use of livestock, not only for its output in saleable products like wool and meat, but also for manure production and its capacity to reduce weeds;
- biological control of pests, disease and weeds; and
- manipulation of planting dates to reduce pests, weeds and diseases.
All these practices require more than the straightforward application of purchased inputs. They require the use of knowledge of specific management practices without which organic farming will not be successful. Knowledge of these practices can be considered a public good to the extent that this knowledge cannot be charged for, and that its availability to some does not affect its use by others. Although these knowledge-demanding management practices are also used in conventional agriculture, reliance on fertilisers and pesticides results in little demand for alternative possibilities to cope with soil fertility and pest problems. In the situation where organic farming is the norm, much of the knowledge mentioned could be passed on from one generation to the next. Therefore, the long-term effect of an increasing adoption of organic farming is a decrease in demand for this input.
Organic farming is likely to have considerably less negative externalities attached to its production system than conventional management (see Wynen and Edwards 1989). Apart from being notoriously difficult to quantify, Australia's research and development funding arrangements are such that few resources are committed in this area as compared to production and marketing issues. Hence, externalities cannot adequately be taken into account when deciding on research priorities. This is likely to result in higher than optimal investments in the technology based on inputs causing negative externalities.
Several differences in input use and outputs in organic and conventional farming account for differences in risks facing farmers in the different systems. The following are the most important.
Relatively low input costs are often reported in organic/b-d farming, not only in Australia (see Wynen 1989a and 1994) but also overseas (see Lampkin and Padel 1994).
In a country where extreme climatic conditions are more the rule than the exception, like in Australia, relatively low input costs (incurred at the start of the growing season) aid in decreasing financial risks.
Wynen (1989a, p.98) reports that many of the organic cereal-livestock farmers mentioned that, in dry years, their crop suffered from lack of moisture later than their neighbours' crop. The limited data available supports this observation. In other words, in years with dry weather conditions yields on organic farms tended to decrease less than on conventional farms. As dry conditions at the maturing stage is an important factor in determining yield, delayed moisture stress could be an important aspect of risk reduction on organic farms. In wet years (such as in 1992-93) this trend could well be reversed. The author has not seen data on yield variability for other industries within Australia. In overseas studies (such as in Lampkin and Padel 1994) lower yield variability in organic farming systems are less apparent.
In a small industry, entry into the industry by few extra farmers could flood the market, and decrease premiums, in the absence of a growth in demand. However, where the industry is not dependant on premiums, as was the case in the cereal-livestock industry in Australia in 1985-86, this factor is not necessarily important in risk assessment.
Whether organic and conventional farming belong to the same or two different paradigms cannot be proven. However, some observations can be made.
We have seen that input use in agriculture is not the right criterion to measuring whether organic and conventional farming belong to the same or different paradigms. First, this criterion is not a sufficient condition for qualification as an organic farmer. Second, this measure can, a priori, lead to only one conclusion: that there is no difference between organic and conventional farming.
A fundamental difference in approach to farming was discussed: conventional farmers rely more on curative actions than organic farmers. The latter focus more on prevention of problems through attention to the overall health of the soil-microbe-plant-animal system.
The effects of these different approaches can be seen in differences in:
- production functions, for use of nutrients and pesticides;
- transition period from conventional to organic farming, which can be considerable.
In the pursuit of organic farming, more inputs with public good characteristics (in the form of information) are needed, and it is likely that less negative externalities are produced. Risk is different on organic farms from on conventional farms, with often lower input costs and yield variability, and possibly higher variability in output prices (at least while the market is small, and in the absence of price stabilisation measures within the market).
Although the differences between organic and conventional farming do not constitute 'proof' of a difference in paradigm, they point to fundamental differences between the two approaches to farming.
It is of course possible that, although the differences between organic and conventional farming are considerable, the implicit assumptions underlying research could still be similar. However, the difference in approach to farming (a different emphasis on curative and preventative measures) does not make this likely. Let us see how the history of organic farming fits with Kuhn's opinion about the evolution of events when a new paradigm appears.
Kuhn (1970) concentrates on paradigms in science and the way in which they are replaced, maintaining that a paradigm shift cannot be proven at the time it occurs. In this paper, the process of a paradigm shift is described, and applied to agriculture. The way in which the characteristics of organic - conventional farming coincide with the main points made about a paradigm shift in science are examined.
The process of a paradigm shift was described in Section 2.2 and is expanded upon below. The main points are as follows:
- 'normal science' (or the dominant paradigm) defines problems to be set, and the range in which solutions can be found;
- 'normal science' is starting to be troubled by crises;
- ad hoc modifications are made to 'normal science', while the idea of a paradigm shift is resisted;
- a new paradigm develops which, in the beginning, can only explain some of the questions which lead to the crisis in the dominant paradigm;
- a small move towards the new paradigm:
- polarisation between proponents of the existing and the new paradigm occurs;
- specialised journals and societies appear in the area of the new paradigm;
- claims are made for a special place in the curriculum of education institutions;
- discussion between the proponents of the different paradigms are never quite satisfactory, as theories are incommensurable and proponents of each camp base their arguments on different assumptions and priorities;
- textbooks are written;
- popularisation of the new paradigm occurs;
- over time more scientists take the step;
- slowly the new paradigm becomes 'normal science', that is, the dominant paradigm.
These points are taken up in more detail below. In addition, a survey is reviewed. Beus and Dunlap (1990; 1991) characterised organic and conventional farming and surveyed a number of practitioners. The aim was to discover whether there was internal consistency within the two groups regarding the identifying characteristics.
Agriculture is the practice of producing food and fibres. In this quest, the two main areas of interest for producers and researchers have been the stimulation of growth (through nutrition of plants and animals) and control of processes which diminish the yield (pest control). In more recent years, agriculture is seen as needing to be able to be sustainable (for example, by maintaining land and water quality) such that present use does not unduly limit future use.
Looking at the nutrient aspect of agriculture, Tisdale and Nelson (1966) relate that certain substances with a beneficial effect on plant growth were used from time immemorial, though the fundamentals of the process of feeding plants were not understood until more recent years. Over the centuries, many people experimented with substances which could increase crop yields. But it was Justus von Liebig who, in the 19th century, first developed theories about plant nutrition and manufactured fertilisers. His contributions '... to the advancement of agriculture were monumental, and he is perhaps quite rightly recognized as the father of agricultural chemistry' (Tisdale and Nelson 1966, p.15). It could probably be said that this was the beginning of a new era in agriculture, in which the chemistry of nutrients was the basis of research.
Howard (1943) described the progression in agricultural science since the mid-1800s from chemistry to soil physics, bacteriology, geology and botany. He reported (in 1943) that 'During the last twenty years the progress of the artificial manure industry has been phenomenal; the age of the manure bag has arrived; the Liebig tradition returned in full force'. The importance of this input seems to have continued until present times.
After World War II another input, synthetic pesticides, was introduced on a large scale. It is not too much to say that many consider this as a triumph of chemistry over nature.
Under any given market conditions certain agricultural enterprises are more profitable than others (at least in the short term). Balancing considerations of enterprise profitability with biological possibilities (soil fertility and pest occurrence) is often the name of the game. When synthetic fertiliser and pesticide technologies became available, the tendency was towards monocultures and high yields. The increased inclusion of the most profitable enterprises was possible as some of the resulting problems with soil quality (fertility) and pests could be solved through applying synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. The emphasis was now on curing problems when they occurred.
Already half a century ago, some voices could be heard expressing concerns about how agriculture was developing, about the quality of the soil and the plants and animals produced (Steiner's lectures in the 1920s; Howard's book on soil fertility and humus (1943); Balfour's (1975) farm experiment carried out between 1939 and 1969; to name some prominent examples). Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' (1962) was one of the first, and probably best-known, warnings about the problems synthetic pesticides were creating.
The body of literature on problems caused by agricultural practices is substantial and growing. These problems can be due to certain inputs specifically (for example pesticides and fertilisers), or to the effect of the system as a whole (for example, intensification and specialisation increasing the risk of soil degradation).
Countries which are in the process of taking action against the use of fertilisers and/or pesticides do so from their perception of major problems. For example, in Sweden and Denmark where governments have legislated to restrict the use of agricultural pesticides, concern for the environment (and especially water quality) - apart from political expediency - was the major reason for instituting curbs on pesticide use (Wynen 1994b; 1994c). In The Netherlands, where similar restrictions are in force via the Multi Year Crop Protection Plan (see Wynen 1994d), reasons for government restrictions on pesticide use in agriculture were mentioned as phyto-toxicity, pesticide residues in the soil, pest resistance to pesticides, food quality considerations, consumer attitudes, and costs of pesticides. Environmental concerns included the residues in ground and surface water, and the effects mainly on fauna.
Large scale pesticide resistance was acknowledged in Australia by the Kondinin Group (a group considered to consist of progressive farmers in Australia). Sixty per cent of farmers surveyed reported 'less than successful results with herbicides in their spraying programme' (p.22). In their publication of February 1992, attention was focussed on resistance to herbicides, how it developed and what to do about it (Farming Ahead 1992). Weed scientists such as Matthews and Powles (1992) mention similar problems.
Soil degradation is the topic of a large body of literature and widely recognised to be related to farm practices. The US National Research Council (1989 p.115) discusses on-farm and off-farm damage caused by soil erosion, which it attributes to 'Common management practices such as increased reliance on row crops grown continuously, fewer rotations involving forages, and larger farms being tilled by one operator...'. It includes federal farm programs as incentives for '.... levels of production that work as a disincentive for effective erosion control practices.' In connection with differences specifically between conventional and organic farming, Hodges and Arden-Clarke (1986) illustrated the connection between general farm practices and soil degradation in the UK, concluding that '... organic/biological farming can be shown to be a soil-conserving system' (p.33). At a more micro-level, Reganold et al. (1993) showed differences in soil quality between conventional and bio-dynamic farms in New Zealand, with the latter having a better biological and physical quality. Soil chemical results were more varied.
A more graphic way of illustrating soil problems was provided to the author by a conventional farmer in an area with deep fertile soils in Australia in the mid-1980s. According to the officer of the Department of Agriculture, this farmer characterised the difference between conventional farmers and a particular organic farmer in that area as that the latter '...will still have soil left in 20 years time, while we won't.' The conventional farmer was considered to be an excellent manager by the Department of Agriculture officer (Wynen 1989a, p.88).
Within Australia, reports by the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment (1991) and the Blue-Green Algae Task Force (1992) are but two of the many publications in which problems caused by conventional agriculture are discussed.
Kuhn (1970) describes how a crisis, brought about by the realisation that there are (too) many exceptions to the rule to be able to keep on passing them off as exceptions, is essential for a new discovery about reality to be made. A scientific revolution necessitates a '... community's rejection of one time-honored scientific theory in favor of another incompatible with it', which then produces '... a consequent shift in the problems available for scientific scrutiny and in the standards by which the profession determined what should count as an admissible problem or as a legitimate problem-solution' (p.6).
The main reasons for farmers to convert to organic management often include both on-farm and off-farm considerations. Conacher and Conacher (1982) reported that 'detrimental effects of synthetic chemicals', philosophical factors, decline of soil fertility, pollution of water and soils, and costs of fuel, fertilisers and biocides were mentioned (in that order of importance) as major reasons for converting to organic farming. Wynen (1989a) found that approximately three quarters of the responses given by cereal-livestock farmers pertained to issues of health (of soil; crops and livestock; and of the farmer and the farming family), and off-farm environmental concerns. In a later survey, the two main reasons for changing to organic farming were soil and environment (maintain quality of the soil, stewardship of an eco-system, working with nature) and the wish to 'produce quality food' (Wynen 1992).
Overseas, a similar story was reported. In the USA Lockeretz and Wernick (1980) found that 75 per cent of the respondents indicated that at least one specific problem or concern contributed to the decision to convert to organic farming (issues were health of livestock, soil, and human beings). Twenty-three per cent mentioned that ineffectiveness of chemicals contributed to that decision. Lockeretz and Madden (1987), in a 1987 follow-up postal survey, found that the four single most important reasons for farming organically were the health of farmer and family, health of livestock, environment and soil considerations.
Concerns about pollution in general, and about the effects of nutrients and pesticides applications in agriculture in particular, are not confined to proponents of organic farming. The rise of environmentalism as a political force in a number of countries can be seen as a sign of this concern. Restrictions on agricultural nutrient quantity and timing of applications in The Netherlands, and pesticide reduction schemes in Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands as mentioned above are other, very visible, signs.
Two examples of trying to cope with problems in conventional farming are pesticide reductions programs and the minimum tillage, also called conservation tillage, technique.
The pesticide reduction programs in some of the European countries as mentioned above were inspired by the realisation that the dependence on pesticides was creating a number of problems, not least on the environment.
The introduction of the minimum tillage technique in the 1970s in Australia was based on the realisation that soil quality was deteriorating. It was expected that minimum tillage and direct drilling (when herbicides take the place of cultivation for weed management) could reverse the process of soil deterioration. The results are not that clear, as they are often reported together with the practice of stubble retention, a technique also practised by organic farmers. In addition, resistance to herbicides is now starting to be one of the next problems (see also Section 4.11).
The Landcare movement in Australia, consisting of rural community-based groups which tackle local land degradation problems, could be seen as an attempt to cope with, and counteract, problems caused by agriculture in the past. However, up to the present the emphasis has been on counteracting problems caused by the clearing phase to prepare the land for agriculture (for example, tree planting has a prominent place amongst the activities of Landcare groups). There is little evidence that farm management practices themselves are scrutinised, and action plans developed. These issues are to be explored in further work.
A way to resist the idea of a paradigm shift is to appropriate other theories, and to deny that they are essentially different from the dominant paradigm. A good example is the attempt to apply as a measuring stick for differentiation between the two paradigms the amount of pesticides and fertilisers, as explained in Section 3.3. Another is the almost total absence of discussion, and inaccurate reporting, on organic farming by the Working Group on Sustainable Agriculture for the Standing Committee on Agriculture (1991) as discussed in Section 4.7.
The new theory posed in this case is that agriculture, being part of nature, is more complicated than generally assumed within the conventional paradigm. Instead of seeing the farm as a combination of different isolatable components which can each be taken out, changed and put back, in this new paradigm there is a much higher awareness that many processes are interactive. There is a realisation that changing one part affects other parts, and so the whole system. A phenomenon such as synergism (where the effect of two actions or processes are greater than their sum) are explicitly recognised as an important force. Organic farm management techniques seek to exploit these forces by creating conditions to enhance the positive forces, and discourage negative forces. This means a shift from reliance on chemistry to an understanding of biological processes. Detailed study of these interactive processes, and how the existing resources can be stimulated to provide long-term sustainable production, is the main focus of organic farming.
Within the new paradigm the finite capacity of nature to absorb disturbances (and therefore creating off-farm problems) is acknowledged. Measures to prevent or minimise off-farm problems are often part of the standards by which the organic status of farms is judged.
In the beginning, only a few scientists take the step towards the new theory, and are usually considered non-scientific. In that time period, several things occur:
- polarisation between proponents of the existing paradigm ('normal science') and those of the new paradigm
'Polarisation' and 'promoting controversy' are words levelled at those working within organic farming, although the author has not seen this in writing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that lack of success in applications for funding for research projects can be attributed, at least partly, to a perceived tendency for the researcher to 'promote controversy'.
- specialised journals and societies appear in the area of the new paradigm
Kuhn (1970) mentions that the 'first sign of a different paradigm is the formation of specialised journals, foundation of specialist societies, claim for a special place in curriculum'. There are too many publications relating to organic agriculture to mention them all, since many countries have their own, and often more than one. These are mainly for farmers, consumers and other interested parties. In addition to informing about technical issues, they play a large role in popularising the topic (see Section 4.9).
The more professional journals, where scientists publish, include the 'Journal of Biological Agriculture and Horticulture' in the United Kingdom, and the 'American Journal of Alternative Agriculture' in the United States.
The International Federation for Organic Agricultural Movements is an umbrella organisation for organic organisations. It counts approximately 350 member organisations, 150 corporate associates, and 350 individual associated memberships from 100 countries (Bernward Geier, General Secretary IFOAM, personal communication, September 1995).
Within Australia, different organisations originally existed in the different centres of population, mainly in the capital cities of the states. The Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association (BDAA) has been a source of support for bio-dynamic farmers and gardeners since the late 1950s. The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) and the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) were inaugurated in the mid-1980s. Both are now mainly certification organisations, though NASAA's original aims included information dissemination and lobbying for political changes needed by farmers and others. Since the early 1990s other certification offices have commenced, such as the Organic Herb Growers Association (OHGA), the Organic Vignerons Association of Australia (OVAA) and the Tasmanian Organic Producers (TOP).
- claims are made for a special place in the curriculum of education institutions
Since the early 1980s, when the first professorial chair in organic farming was instituted at Kassel University in Germany, the number of professorships in organic farming has increased at a rapid rate. Germany has four, The Netherlands, Sweden and Austria each one with one, for research only, in Finland (N.Lampkin, personal communications, November 1995).
By contrast, in the early 1990s two Australian universities (Adelaide and Western Sydney) appointed professors in 'sustainable agriculture'. However, these chairs are not related to organic agriculture. In fact, both the founding professors were well-known for their research in the area of conservation tillage.
In theory, discussion between the proponents of the different paradigms are never quite satisfactory. Kuhn (1970, p.148) mentions a number of reasons, which he collectively names 'incommensurability', which can be summarised as follows:
- proponents of each camp base their arguments on different assumptions and priorities. In discussions between the two groups, disagreements will be about the list of problems which need to be solved.
The main difference between organic and conventional farming is that one emphasises the prevention of problems, while the latter focuses a large parts of its resources on treatment of the symptoms once they occur;
- although the same words and instruments might be used in the different paradigms, they often have different meanings.
A good example in agriculture is the word 'sustainable'. In Australia, 'conservation tillage', in which cultivation for weed management have been substituted by herbicides, is often referred to as sustainable agriculture, as it is seen to diminish soil degradation. Solutions for problems due to this management approach are discussed mainly in terms of future developments in the chemical industry, such as new herbicides. Within organic farming the word 'sustainable' would not be used in connection with minimum tillage. The reason is that it can be considered a form of agriculture which creates major problems which will need resources to solve.
- '...the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds' (Kuhn 1970, p.150):
Kuhn calls this the most fundamental aspect of incommensurability of competing paradigms yet difficult to explicate. A quote is in order here (Kuhn 1970, p.150):
'...Both are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they see them in different relation one to the other. That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another. Equally, it is why, before they can hope to communicate fully, one group or the other must experience the conversion that we have been calling a paradigm shift. Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at the time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at once (though not necessarily in an instant) or not at all'.
In the experience of the author many people, scientists and non-scientists alike, often do not proceed beyond the definition of organic farming as 'no use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides', and the conclusion that that kind of agriculture is 'not possible', while maintaining that they know what organic agriculture is. Reasons can be proposed for lack of knowledge, such as historical bias, opportunity costs for those involved in research and extension, and vested interests. (For a discussion on those factors, see Wynen 1989a, pp.37-43). However, the characteristic of incommensurability which exists between two paradigms would explain the lack of understanding quite adequately also.
A good example of no discussions, and consequent lack of knowledge about organic farming, at high policy levels, is the one paragraph devoted to organic production in the publication by the Working Group on Sustainable Agriculture for the Standing Committee on Agriculture (1991, p.44), which is worth quoting in full:
'This concern [about spray drift] has been reflected in the growing interest in organic and 'low input' food production and in integrated pest management where the use of agricultural chemicals is minimised. Organic farming may have a place in certain niche environments, eg highly fertile soils for cereals and in particular fruit and vegetable areas. It is unlikely to be sustainable over many broadscale Australian farming regions because of lack of available organic materials.'
Apart from it being demonstrably wrong (organic farming takes place in all kinds of environments in Australia, not only on some 'highly fertile soils') it also displays a lack of knowledge about what organic farming is (the defining characteristic is not use of organic materials, and spray-drift is not the main problem it confronts). The Australian Agricultural Council endorsed a work program on sustainable agriculture based on the recommendations in that report. Needless to say, organic farming did not rate highly in this program.
A move towards organic agriculture can be seen on two levels, practical farming and research.
In many countries organic farmers have constituted less than one per cent of total farm population for some time (Wynen 1991). This, of course, reflects not only the information distributed by public (Departments of Agriculture) and private (input companies) sources, but also the institutional climate of the time (such as pricing of inputs; tolerance towards off-farm externalities; marketing arrangements). In more recent years the number of organic farmers has increased (see also Section 4.11). In Australia the number of organic farmers was estimated to have increased from less than 1000 in 1990 to over 1400 in 1995, an increase of almost 50 per cent (Hassall 1995). The area under organic management was estimated to have more than doubled in the same period.
A prominent example of a textbook in the English literature, 'Organic Farming', was authored by Lampkin and published in 1990. In 1994 Lampkin and Padel edited a comprehensive book on the economics of organic farming in a number of countries, 'The Economics of Organic Farming ‑ An International Perspective', which could well prove to become a textbook in its area for a number of years to come.
Examples of the more popular journals and magazines on organic farming and gardening are 'The New Farm' and 'Acres' in the USA, and 'Acres Australia' in Australia.
Recent publications include a report by Info-Line of the Financial Review (1995). NSW Agriculture published 'Organic Farming' in its Home Study Program (Burlace 1995).
The shift towards organic farming has been more dramatic overseas than in Australia, with governments recognising the importance of organic farming through financial support.
In the 1980s government assistance in the form of establishing an organic certification scheme occurred in a number of European countries. Subsidies for education (with professorial chairs in organic agriculture) and extension services were other areas of government assistance (see Wynen 1991). More recently, subsidies for conversion were introduced (Wynen 1991; Lampkin and Padel 1994). Total certified and in-conversion area in a number of European countries grew from 115,000 ha in 1985 to 1,036,000 in 1995; the number of farms for those categories increased from 7,000 to 46,000 for the same years (N. Lampkin, personal communication, 1995).
In Sweden, Parliament resolved to aim for 10 per cent of farmers being organic by 2000 (Ecology and Farming 1994). In Denmark the demand for organic products is reported to be higher than available supply. It is expected that organic products will constitute between 15 and 20 per cent of the market by the year 2000 (Danish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries 1995). In Finland a similar situation, in which demand outstrips supply, occurs (Ecology and Farming 1995).
The Danish Ecological Agricultural Council has declared as its goal to have 7 per cent of agricultural land under organic management by the year 2000. Members of the Council have expressed views that this could well increase to between 20 and 40 per cent by 2010, with a long-term goal of all agricultural land being farmed organically. Policy strategies are proposed to effect this development in the future (Danish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries 1995). Almost $200 million is proposed to be allocated to the development of organic farming between 1995 and 2000, increasing from $26 million in 1995 to almost $50 million in 1999.
Beus and Dunlap (1990), in their discussion of competing agricultural paradigms (the term is not necessarily used as in Kuhn (1970)), summarise two different views first introduced by others (Pirages and Ehrlich (1974) and Dunlap and Van Liere (1978, 1984)). These views are the 'dominant social paradigm' (DSP) and the 'new environmental paradigm' (NEP), respectively.
The core elements of the DSP were seen as '...the Americans' belief in progress, growth and prosperity; faith in science and technology; commitment to a laissez-faire economy and private property rights; and the view of nature as something that must be subdued and made useful'.
Because of their assumptions of limits to growth and a human threat to the balance of nature, proponents of the NEP rejected the idea that 'nature exists primarily for human use'. Further developments made Cotgrove (1982) suggest that the NEP '...also challenges the free-market economy, hierarchical political structures, centralized social organization, large-scale technological developments, and the legitimacy of scientific knowledge as the basis for social decision-making'. Beus and Dunlap (1990) then postulate that the debate about paradigms within agriculture exists at both the scientific and the societal level. The main characteristics can be summarised as in Table 2.
In a survey conducted in 1989 and 1990, designed to discover whether members of different groups (such as organic and conventional farmers) could be shown to adhere to a combination of values related to aspects of Table 2, Beus and Dunlap (1991) found there was a strong correlation between group membership and the combination of beliefs. The results point to a fundamental difference between organic and conventional farming.
Table 2: Key elements of the competing agricultural paradigms (Beus and Dunlap 1990)
Domination of nature Harmony with nature
Tracing the trajectory of a paradigm shift as described by Kuhn (1970) in science shows that organic farming could well fit the picture of a paradigm shift in agriculture. The crises within conventional farming; attempts to 'patch up' the problems; polarisation of opinions; incommensurability of theories; claims by proponents of the new theory for a recognition through publications, education and extension channels and the production of textbooks; and finally popularisation and acceptance, are events many will recognise as relevant in organic agriculture. The survey by Beus and Dunlop serves to illustrate a fundamental difference between organic and conventional farming.
In the previous Sections a case was made for a paradigm shift in agriculture. If and when a paradigm shift is occurring, comparisons of benefit/costs ratios for research projects important for organic farming and for conventional farming are not relevant. This is so because a new paradigm, by definition, implies that solutions found under that paradigm are an improvement (and therefore can be more cost-effective) as compared to those found under the old paradigm.
What is the appropriate way to decide on research priorities is more difficult to determine, as a new paradigm cannot be proven to be just that before it has shown its value. Yet, due to indivisibility of technologies and existing socio-economic conditions, research of relevance within the new paradigm could be not cost-effective if the results were to be used within the old paradigm. The matter is complicated by the fact that not all projects within the new paradigm are better than any project in the old paradigm: bad projects can be designed under any paradigm. What then is the determining factor when deciding on funding? Perhaps it is only when the new theory has been accepted as 'the way ahead' that the whole system, with implications for research in the areas of technology and infrastructure, can be adopted. One wonders whether Denmark is approaching that point of acceptance. Until such acceptance, most research is bound to be allocated according to an estimate of usefulness within the old paradigm, which sometimes coincides with usefulness in the new paradigm.
Meanwhile we can surmise what the changes would be if organic agriculture were to be accepted as the new paradigm. In Section 5.2 the difference in technological research, and the basis for funding within organic farming are considered. As alluded to above, a technology exists within a socio/economic environment, an infrastructure of institutions. These pertain to issues such as research allocation, input costs, externalities, marketing, transition, education, extension, financing and insurance. A change in policies for these institutions may be appropriate within an existing paradigm. In other words, agreement about the need for a change in policies does not automatically herald the arrival of a new paradigm. However, when a paradigm shift is occurring policy changes in institutions as those mentioned above will hasten the move towards the new paradigm. Alternatively, during the process of the shift, policy changes are likely to be adopted. Most of these last policies were discussed in Wynen and Edwards (1990), and are summarised in the last part of this Section.
As noted in Section 3 there are few, if any, practices in organic agriculture which are not used to some degree within conventional farming. The difference in scientific basis between organic and conventional farming is therefore not in individual techniques, but in the technology as a whole. As mentioned, in organic agriculture the emphasis is on coaxing the biological processes such that the production of food and fibre is carried out within the long-run capacities of the inputs used. In other words, the emphasis is on encouraging the beneficial organisms to overcome problems with soil and pests in the quest to produce food and fibres. This approach leads to research requirements in the technical aspects which are fundamentally different from research in a world where the emphasis is on controlling the detrimental effects of producing agricultural outputs (soil and pest problems). The US Department of Agriculture (1980, p.88) captured this difference in its recommendation to 'investigate organic farming systems using a holistic approach'. In part, its recommendation reads as follows:
'...It is also likely that these [organic] systems are highly complex and involve unknown or poorly understood chemical and microbiological interactions....A holistic research approach, which may involve the development of new methodologies, is needed to thoroughly investigate these interactions and their relationship to organic waste recycling, nutrient availability, crop protection, energy conservation, and environmental quality.'
Apart from the need for a different direction in technical research, usefulness of some inputs (and therefore the direction of research) can be dependent on the availability of other inputs. This phenomenon is called the indivisibility of a system, which can have far-reaching consequences. The following examples illustrates the point.
In crop breeding the main aim is to improve crop yields, subject to certain constraints. In Australia the main constraint has been wheat quality (until recently the Australian Wheat Board, the main marketing body, discounted prices for true winter wheats, for example). Within this constraint, resistance for diseases was considered a major area worthy of breeding effort. Within a farming system where synthetic fertilisers and pesticides are allowed, new varieties will be tested under 'normal' conditions, that is, with different rates of the current fertiliser and pesticide regimes. In a system where these inputs are not available, research priorities might concentrate not only on yield and disease resistance under certain growing conditions, but on other characteristics such as the ability of the plant to develop vigorous growth in the early growth stages (increasing the chance to crowd out weeds). It could make economic sense to give up some potential yield capacity to decrease the risk of a yield penalty due to weed competition. In more recent years herbicide resistance of weeds in grains have forced conventional agriculture to fund research into exactly this topic (Lemerle et al. 1996). Varieties which can be sown later without yield penalty (to allow for later cultivation) could also be interesting for organic farmers.
Another example is the need for research and extension into the safe storage and handling of pesticides, once pesticides are a normal part of agriculture.
These examples illustrate that research in certain technology automatically leads into other research which uses the outcome of the first to decide future research direction. In other words, once the direction of research is set, it makes little sense on efficiency grounds to carry out the next research with different requirements in mind (for example, research on the most efficient fertiliser and pesticide rates followed by varieties which yield best without those inputs).
In the following sections research for organic agriculture is discussed, both in soil and pest management. Few of the topics of relevance to organic farming are not researched within conventional farming. As mentioned, however, the difference in research between the two agricultural systems is not so much in topics per se, but in the emphasis on problems that research is supposed to solve. It is for this reason that some projects carried out by conventional scientists can be useful within organic farming and vice versa. In addition, the relevance of comparisons of agricultural systems and the location of research are considered.
Since in organic farming the soil is viewed as '... a living system that the farmer, in harmony with nature, should seek to develop' (Lampkin 1990, p.5) soils and soil life receive considerable attention in organic farming.
Of the 15 research areas proposed by the US Department of Agriculture (1980, pp.88-92) six were directly related to soils. Waste recycling, efficacy of materials and biological nitrogen fixing on soils adapted to the organic system were the main topics recommended.
Almost a decade later, at a workshop on priorities for organic research and development in the UK, the priorities set by the group on soil structure and nutrient supplies was as follows ((Scottish Agricultural Colleges and Scottish Agricultural Research Institutes (1989):
- whole-farm nutrient budgets;
- analysis of component processes governing nutrient supply and turnover in soils;
- study and documentation of soil changes during conversion;
- soil microbial ecology;
- matching crops to nutrient availability and vice versa;
- nutrient conservation by soil management and use of green manures.
Within the crop production workshop there was a call for research into developing methods for quantification of nutrient requirement and availability in animal-based and stockless systems.
Some years later the UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS) Research and Development Committee advised the Board on research priorities in organic farming (Elm Farm Research Centre Bulletin 1994). Two of the ten were directed towards soils and nutrients. One was about 'determination of the fate and efficiency of transfer of nutrients between "organic manures" and plants' (including green manures, catch crops and plant residues and those manures and composts included in EC Regulations). The other priority was the 'investigation of the supply and availability of nutrients from permitted fertilisers (other than manures and composts and those substances requiring Control Body approval)'.
In Australia Wynen (1992, p.101) recorded that several organic cereal-livestock farmers mentioned a lack of information on the efficacy of certain materials allowed under organic management. The effect of soil biology on soil structure and soil water retention capability would be another area of interest.
In general, trials on the efficacy of substances permitted in organic farming, including rock dust, manures, green manures and plant residues, are called for. Research regarding soils is likely to encompass extensively rotational work, including intercropping, and the effects of manure and green manure on soil and soil qualities under organic management, both established and in conversion. Beneficial organisms which aid in the nutrient cycling are likely to receive considerable attention amongst researchers in organic farming. A good example of this is mycorrhizal fungi, which might aid in making water-insoluble phosphorous available to the plant (Mosse, Powell and Hayman 1976), and in water uptake. These organisms are present to a lesser extent on conventional than on organic farms for several enterprises (see Ryan et al. 1994; and Ryan and Small 1994). Field trials under organic conditions have received scant attention in past research. Questions such as what these organisms actually do, and how they can be stimulated (if found to be of interest for production purposes), and whether there are other organisms which can perform such tasks, would be of great interest to organic farmers. Although a number of these areas are researched at present, very little if any research is conducted under conditions of organic management.
This topic can be divided into two categories: the importance of different pests and diseases in the two systems, and the methods of pest management.
Certain pests and diseases occurring in conventional farming are not relevant in organic farming. A good example in the Australian broadacre cropping industry is the red legged earth mite (Halotydeus destructor) (RLEM), a mite which is reported to cause great damage in pastures on conventional farms (estimated by Sloane, Cook and King (1988) at $228 million annually for all industries). Organic farmers report generally that, though the RLEM is present, it is not considered a problem.
A considerable amount of funding in Australia in the past has been allocated to RLEM research by the then Australian Wool Research Organisation, estimated at $120,000 in 1992-93 (Vlastuin, WRDC, pers. comm. November 1992). Environmental agents such as predators which attack the RLEM is part of this research, classification of RLEM another part. Research over and above this is spent on pesticide trials.
Although research into understanding RLEM and its natural enemies is also relevant to organic farming in a general sense, within organic farming this research is not likely to have any priority. Such research would be more to satisfy the curiosity to know why the pest is not a problem under organic management than it would be of practical benefit to organic farmers. Research on indigenous predators or organisms which are spontaneously present if no synthetic fertilisers and pesticides are used would also fall in the category of curiosity satisfaction, or to deliver scientific proof.
A special case of irrelevance of certain pests and diseases is secondary pests, which are, by definition, caused by the use of pesticides in the first place. A secondary pest has become a pest due to use of pesticides to control a primary pest, affecting the natural enemies of the secondary pest, which then becomes a major pest. An example is the two-spotted mite (Tetranychus urticae), which now is a major pest in horticultural crops in Australia (James 1990). In addition to the two-spotted mite, Penrose (1996) mentions three other major secondary pests in apples in New South Wales, the European red mite (Panonychus ulmi), San Jose scale (Comstockapsis perniciosus) and the woolly aphid (Eriosoma lanigerum).
It is obvious that research for organic farming would not include research on synthetic pesticides. Some substances detrimental to pest and diseases (such as derris dust and biological agencies like Bacillus thuringensis) can be allowed under organic management. Therefore, some resources will be directed towards the efficacy of allowed substances. However, the focus in organic agriculture is on the prevention of pests with a subsequent emphasis on management methods other than treatments, once the pest occurs.
A good example of differences in interest in methods of pest management, and therefore research directions, could be discerned at the 'Non-Chemical Weed Control' conference in Dijon in 1993. The conference was jointly organised by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and the local College of Agriculture. This was the first time for such co-operation and, according to IFOAM members, it was only a mixed success. The main reason was that many of the papers (presented by those working in conventional agriculture) were concerned with trials comparing various methods of weed control, such as by hand, with harrows, brushes or thermal methods. IFOAM's Secretary General, Bernward Geier, commented that this kind of work had been done before and that research other than refining the mechanical means of weed control may be of greater interest to organic farming. Topics such as the timing of weed control, crop rotation, selection of crop varieties, characteristics of weeds which indicate which factors can be corrected (such as pH-level), and use of animals in the agricultural system could have been usefully explored.
Comparisons of organic and conventional agricultural systems have been conducted for a number of years. For example, a long-term study was carried out in the U.K., where three systems (organic, and conventional with and without livestock) were compared for the rotation cycles running from 1952 to 1959 and from 1960 to 1968. A number of characteristics were measured: crop yields; output from livestock fed off those crops; and soil characteristics of the different systems (Balfour 1975).
In more recent years the work by Klepper et al. (1977) is a well-known example in a string of work across the world. Since that time a number of comparisons have been carried out (for an analysis, see Wynen and Fritz (1987), Stanhill (1990), and Lampkin and Padel (1994)). Quantitative economic comparisons in Australia were carried out for the cereal-livestock industries (Wynen 1989a) and the dairy industry (Wynen 1994a).
However, in the 1980s European researchers concluded that enough comparisons were available to justify the observation that organic farming can be an interesting alternative to conventional farming under a number of divergent conditions. The decision was therefore made that the best way to spend the scarce resources available to organic farming researchers was to find out how and why components of organic farming worked, not whether they worked (Dlouhy 1983).
In addition, organic farming is likely to be further from its potential than conventional farming. The reason is that, up until present, considerably less resources have been spent on issues important in organic farming than on those relevant in conventional farming.
It is often said that it is more important for organic farming to have research carried out on the farm than in conventional farming. Reasons given include (Anderson 1992):
- farm history:
- few research stations can facilitate research into organic practices, as areas which have been under organic management previously are often not available;
- a natural phenomenon needs to be studied which is impossible, or not desirable, to recreate at the research station (such as erosion or pest outbreaks);
- the study of farm management:
- the reasons for the success of innovative systems should be studied on the farm before appropriate aspects can be reproduced and examined on a research station;
- understanding of farm decision-making comes from studying actual farmers;
- whole-farm dynamics:
the space limitations of most experimental stations do not allow for setting up studies with multiple enterprises. However, especially the study of the ecological consequences of the manipulation of several enterprises, such as different crops and types of livestock, requires space.
The emphasis on on-farm research as opposed to replicated trials is not a problem as long as research funding is made available for these different requirements. However, the cost of such research could be substantially higher than for replicated plots at research stations.
In general, organic management techniques necessitate incorporation of regional conditions in farming to a much larger extent than conventional techniques do. This is due to the fact that the problems and solutions are more location-specific in organic farming. For example, soil type, temperature ranges and variability, rainfall distribution over the year, humidity of the air, etc. all are important influences on the occurrence, and the degree of importance, of pests. It follows that, with differences in these factors between regions, the importance of certain pests will also be different according to the region.
Pesticides are imported from overseas to work under Australian conditions, where they act against the same pests at completely different locations and under variable circumstances. Though they need to be tested for Australian conditions, one substance can be used for a number of pests under many different conditions. For example, in general one herbicide is effective for a group of weeds, such as grass-like weeds (monocotyledons) or broad-leave weeds (dicotyledons) under different climatic conditions.
Organic farmers use a number of tactics to combat pests (see for example, Wynen (1992) on different strategies for the different weeds on Australian cereal-livestock farms), which are often pest specific or environment-specific. Relevance of research will therefore be more region-specific than when the same agent can be used for a group of pests (such as monocotyledons) under a range of climatic conditions. Some general principles of techniques, such as the sequence of certain crops in the rotation, can be learned or adapted from other regions (including overseas). However, the suitability for a particular combination of environmental factors (such as climate and soil type) will still need to be tested.
In Australia, a large part of agricultural research is funded by commodity Research and Development Corporations (R&DCs). For many commodities farmers pay a (low) percentage of their returns to that commodity, which is often matched dollar for dollar by taxpayers' money. The total amount is then allocated by the different R&DCs to projects within their commodity. Some R&DCs work across commodities, such as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (with an emphasis on small and upcoming industries) and the Land and Water R&DC.
In connection with research allocation for organic farming issues such as definition of research needs; project implementation; and research funding are of relevance.
A first requirement for the definition of a problem is an understanding of the relevant field. It is therefore likely that those who do not recognise that organic and conventional agriculture are fundamentally different are not going to be efficient in defining the problems within organic farming and to propose projects for research.
The implementation of a project can be split into different components. The design of the research can be expected to be best left to those who know the essentials of the system. Carrying out of routine tasks, for example laboratory work, can be done by anybody trained in that area.
Research funding in Australia is mainly allocated by those who have worked in the area of conventional agriculture. A reluctance to allocate resources to organic farming can be expected amongst many committee members of the various R&DCs. Reasons may include ignorance (for example, not knowing the topics of interest to organic farming, see Section 5.2) and vested interest (for example, perceived diminishing of importance of conventional agriculture and its proponents). It is in the interest of those working in conventional farming to deny that a different paradigm has emerged.
As knowledge about the system can be learned, nobody is barred from undertaking it. What it does mean, however, is that scarce resources be allocated to those with a proven comparative advantage (that is, those who know organic agricultural principles), not necessarily those who have a track-record in agricultural research per se. As this principle is commonly used in other areas of research, it is no startling new idea. Yet, in the past this principle has not been adhered to for organic agriculture (see, for example, NASAA 1991; McKinna et al. 1991).
These three aspects of funding make a separate R&DC for organic farming worthy of consideration.
Prices of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in Australia do not reflect environmental and health costs. Internalisation of those externalities by farmers could be obtained by taxes on those inputs. Ideally, these costs should be paid by those who do the damage, as this can influence the severity of the effects by adjusting management practices. But off-farm effects of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides are difficult to pinpoint to the actual polluter (non-point pollution). In other words, it is not easy to allocate pollution effects to each farm.
Unit prices for those inputs mean that all farmers pay according to inputs used, which does not necessarily reflect the pollution caused by each farmer. It is therefore a poorly targeted way to force farmers to internalise the externalities. However, a zero tax is likely to be further away from the optimal tax than a tax of some sort. In some countries, taxes are charged on fertilisers and pesticides, despite the problem mentioned above. For example, Sweden has taxed these inputs since the mid-1980s (Eitjes and De Haan 1987), partly using the revenue for research into alternative forms of farming. In other Scandinavian countries similar policies were instituted.
If full social costs were to be paid by farmers for those inputs, conventional farming would become less competitive compared to organic farming, likely to reflect in adoption rates of organic management.
As the social benefits of consuming organic products are considered likely to be higher than the private benefits (health aspects) there is a role for government to facilitate marketing of organic produce. One area in which this could be done is the legalisation of the word 'organic'. This would make it easier for consumers to differentiate between products, and enable organic farmers to market their products without unfair competition from farmers who farm conventionally and call their product 'organic'. A second area is that of marketing institutions; and a third of legal requirements.
As the organic product cannot easily, if at all, be identified at point of sale, a certification scheme is needed for identification of the product. For certification to take place, standards need to be set and updated, and accompanied by a compliance system.
However, the word 'organic' is not legally protected for produce sold on the domestic market in Australia. This means that goods produced under conventional management can be sold as organic. This situation causes two problems. One, consumers, many of whom are not likely to differentiate between produce offered for sale as 'organic' (and possibly not being produced under organic management) and 'certified organic', could end up paying a premium where it is not warranted. Two, organic farmers have to deal with unfair competition. Many countries have recognised that the official protection of the word 'organic' is essential, and have acted accordingly. For example, in the USA the 'Organic Foods Production Act of 1990' was instituted, and the European Union regulated the word in 1991 (EEC Council Regulation 1991). In Australia the word has been protected for the export market since 1992. That is, organic produce cannot be exported unless it has been certified by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) or by an agency which is approved by AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Services 1992). The Organic Produce Advisory Committee has made several efforts to get the word protected for the domestic market. Disagreement within government departments about what is a legally acceptable way to proceed has resulted in no progress. In practice, this is showing to be a major problem. For example, in Victoria no action was taken against two retailers suspected of selling conventionally produce as organic. The reason mentioned by the Office of Fair Trading and Business Affairs was that the label 'organic' is not protected in Australia (C. Allenson, Organic Retailers and Growers Association of Australia, personal communication, February 1996).
Marketing arrangements can restrict the marketing opportunities for goods with a special quality, such as organic products. In the past, marketing arrangements for products such as wheat (see Wynen 1989b), eggs, sultanas and milk have meant that organic farmers could not take advantage of the total premium paid for organic product, due to pooling arrangements (which meant that premiums paid for organic produce were shared by all farmers) or other institutions. In some cases, such as organic milk in Victoria and dried vine fruits, special arrangements still need to be made to allow premiums to reach the farmer.
In most States regulations stipulate that produce needs to be treated with pesticides before import from another state is allowed. Once the product is treated, even only post-harvest, most consumers would not be willing to pay premiums for the produce.
When moving from conventional to organic farming, certain costs may occur. A shift in rotations and enterprises is often needed. For example, on cereal-livestock farms livestock will be used more extensively for weed management. This might lead to increased costs of livestock and fencing. Other capital investments might be needed, such as storage space, as traders of organic produce often can't provide sufficient space. Some farmers also have reported decreased yields for some years, though this is not necessarily the case (see Wynen 1989a). However, as the rotation often is different on organic farms, there can be an opportunity cost of not (or to a lesser extent) growing certain crops.
The fact that there are establishment costs attached to a particular form of farming does not necessarily mean that subsidising those costs is efficient from an economic point of view. However, in many countries (especially in Europe, both inside and outside the European Union) the transition to organic farming is subsidised, presumably to stimulate change on the grounds that the public benefits of organic farming are higher than the cost of the subsidies.
Although subsidies in agriculture are not nearly as common in Australia as in some other countries, certain rural activities related to agriculture are subsidised. Since the mid-1980s, Australia has moved towards 'Landcare' which has been subsidised. In 1993-94 core federal funding of the National Landcare Program alone amounted to $104 million. More contributions are provided by other federal, state and industry agencies (Alexander 1995).
Apart from issues related to the technical side of organic farming, and the use of economic instruments to encourage or discourage certain practices (technical research, input use, marketing, transition), other socio-economic matters will need attention. For example, consumer behaviour and likely effects of this and of changes in technological possibilities affecting the supply on output prices are areas in which no work has been carried out. The education and extension areas need drastic change if organic agriculture is to be accepted on a larger scale. Risks in areas which are different from conventional farming, and commercialisation of the new technologies should be of interest to financial and insurance institutions. The Ecologically Sustainable Development agenda in Australia would be seen in a completely different light if organic principles were accepted.
These, and other, issues are not developed further here but will need attention with developments in organic farming.
It is proposed in this paper that organic and conventional agriculture belong to two different paradigms.
The first type of agriculture, called conventional farming in this paper, is characterised by an approach of control and reductionism, emphasising treatment of symptoms instead of prevention in management. Solutions to problems within chemistry are an important part of the science involved in conventional agriculture. Although there is awareness of off-farm problems, in general these are not paid a great deal of attention.
The second, called organic farming, approaches farming as an holistic enterprise, with the whole farm seen as one integrated, dynamic system. Changes in one part of the system might influence a number of other parts. Attempts to prevent problems by encouraging biological processes, especially in the soil, are central in this approach. The emphasis is on biological processes, rather than on chemistry. The effect of farming on the off-farm environment is seen as an important part of farming.
Since there cannot be proof that a particular change is more than a marginal shift, Kuhn's (1970) trajectory of moving towards a new paradigm is followed. It is argued that the move towards organic farming can be seen as satisfying Kuhn's description of what happens during a paradigm shift. Beus and Dunlap's surveys (1990; 1991) underline the notion that organic and conventional farmers each tend to conform to characteristics thought to be typical for their group, thus suggesting fundamental differences.
Accepting a shift in paradigm has implications in several areas. The first concerns research into technological issues, such as the relevance of research topics (related here to soils and pests); comparisons of the organic and conventional systems, and the location of technical research. An emphasis on how to stimulate soil life so that the soil can perform optimally in terms of nutrient cycling and preventing pest and diseases is essential in organic farming. Certain pests generally found under conventional management are not relevant under organic management, or are approached from a different angle in organic farming than under conventional management. Comparisons between the two systems were of interest to organic farming in the early years. However, continued work in this area should now be considered for the benefit of conventional researchers and farmers. The organic sector is more interested in how and why processes under organic management work rather than whether they work. Different requirements for research location stem from the fact that on-farm research is more relevant, and that problems under organic management are more region-specific than under conventional management so that solutions will need to be found regionally.
The second area of implications of a paradigm shift is the need for changes in infrastructure. Changing policies towards institutions which influence agriculture, such as research allocation, input costs, marketing, education, extension and risk management can be efficiency-enhancing within the conventional agriculture paradigm. Reforms of these institutional arrangements are likely to be important for the efficient development of agriculture within the organic paradigm. In the absence of appropriate reform in these areas a shift to the new paradigm is likely to occur more slowly.
The distinction between organic and conventional agriculture makes it likely that some stages of research (such as planning, implementation of projects into organic farming and resource allocation) are carried out most efficiently by those who are aware of the fundamental and practical differences between the management systems. Consideration of all aspects concerned with research lead to the conclusion that, when research into organic agriculture is pursued, an organisation specifically dealing with this is worthwhile contemplating.
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 The author thanks Max Whitten, David Vanzetti, Peter Stewart, Kate Short, Megan Ryan, Philippa Rowland, Ian Reeve, Andrea Rhodes-Little, Anne Rawson, Ruth Pfanner, David Pfanner, Onko Kingma, Geoff Edwards, Stephen Dovers, Jim Derrick, Ross Carter, Lorna Carter and John Angus. Any problems with the paper are, however, the author's responsibility.
 Some find the word 'conventional' more appropriate when applied to the concept of organic farming. However, it is often used to describe the present main agricultural system, as in this paper.
 The word 'pesticide' is used in this paper as an umbrella word referring to all agricultural biocides such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, nematicides and anthelmintics. Similarly, the word 'pest' covers all forms of life of negative influence on long-term farm productivity, including insects, weeds, fungi, nematodes, livestock parasites, etc.
 The point about 'holism' relates to the fact that processes on the farm are seen as interdependent (one 'organism', hence 'organic'), that is, 'a system'.
 For more details: see Wynen and Fritz (1987) who summarised these effects under several headings: pest resistance to pesticides; soil (degradation, pesticide residues, limiting cropping possibilities); effects on crops (phyto-toxicity) and livestock (health, fertility); human health and environmental effects (water quality, salinity, pesticide residues).
 I am indebted to Ian Reeve, University of New England, Armidale, for this perspective.
 Exchange rate as at 4 May 1996: $1 = DK 4.66.
 Discussions with researchers in organic farming in the UK, for example from Elm Farm Research Station, lead the author to believe that funding of research into organic farming by those not specialised in the area can be a problem also in other countries than Australia.