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Organic Farming Provides Reliable Environmental Benefits but Increases Variability in Crop Yields: A Global Meta-Analysis

Smith, Olivia M.; Cohen, Abigail L.; Rieser, Cassandra J; Davis, Alexandra G. Davis; Taylor, Joseph M.; Adesanya, Adekunle W.; Jones, Matthew S; Meier, Amanda R.; Reganold, John P.; Orpet, Robert J.; Northfield, Tobin D. and Crowder, David W. (2019) Organic Farming Provides Reliable Environmental Benefits but Increases Variability in Crop Yields: A Global Meta-Analysis. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2019.00082/full, 3 (82), pp. 1-10.

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Document available online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2019.00082/full


To promote food security and sustainability, ecologically intensive farming systems should reliably produce adequate yields of high-quality food, enhance the environment, be profitable, and promote social wellbeing. Yet, while many studies address the mean effects of ecologically intensive farming systems on sustainability metrics, few have considered variability. This represents a knowledge gap because producers depend on reliable provisioning of yields, profits, and environmental services to enhance the sustainability of their production systems over time. Further, stable crop yields are necessary to ensure reliable access to nutritious foods. Here we address this by conducting a global meta-analysis to assess the average magnitude and variability of seven sustainability metrics in organic compared to conventional systems. Specifically, we explored the effects of these systems on (i) biotic abundance, (ii) biotic richness, (iii) soil organic carbon, (iv) soil carbon stocks, (v) crop yield, (vi) total production costs, and (vii) profitability. Organic farms promoted biotic abundance, biotic richness, soil carbon, and profitability, but conventional farms produced higher yields. Compared to conventional farms, organic farms had lower variability in abundance and richness but greater yield variability. Organic farms thus provided a “win-win” (high means and low variability) for environmental sustainability, while conventional farms provided a “win-win” for production by promoting high crop yields with low variability. Despite lower yields, and greater yield variability, organic systems had similar costs to conventional systems and were more profitable due to organic premiums. Our results suggest certification guidelines for organic farms successfully promote reliable environmental benefits, but greater reliance on ecological processes may reduce predictability of crop production.

EPrint Type:Journal paper
Agrovoc keywords:
food security
farming -> farming systems
Subjects: Farming Systems
Food systems > Food security, food quality and human health
Soil > Soil quality > Soil biology
Food systems
Farming Systems > Farm nutrient management
Research affiliation:USA
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Deposited By: Harris, John
ID Code:43867
Deposited On:12 Sep 2022 08:25
Last Modified:12 Sep 2022 08:25
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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