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., 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. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 3. 82.

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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.

Item ID: 61720
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2571-581X
Keywords: agroecosystems, biodiversity, conventional agriculture, meta-analysis, profitability, soil carbon, stability, sustainability
Copyright Information: © 2019 Smith, Cohen, Rieser, Davis, Taylor, Adesanya, Jones, Meier, Reganold, Orpet, Northfield and Crowder.
Funders: USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Projects and Grants: Hatch project 1014754
Date Deposited: 11 May 2020 22:11
FoR Codes: 30 AGRICULTURAL, VETERINARY AND FOOD SCIENCES > 3002 Agriculture, land and farm management > 300210 Sustainable agricultural development @ 100%
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