Productive farms can be 'greener than organic': study

Feb 15, 2012
Productive farms can be 'greener than organic'
Farming maize. Photo: P Flannagan

(PhysOrg.com) -- Farms that aim for high food production using environmentally-friendly practices could be better for the environment than both organic and conventional farms.

A study, led by Oxford University scientists, compared the of different farming systems.

The researchers found that ‘integrated’ farms that maximised crop yields whilst using environmentally-friendly techniques – such as crop rotation, organic fertilisers, over winter cover crops, and minimal use of pesticides – would use less energy and generate lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production than both organic and .

A report of the research is published in the journal Agricultural Systems.

‘Farming in a way that’s good for the environment doesn’t have to mean accepting a dramatic drop in food production,’ said Dr Hanna Tuomisto, who led the research at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU). ‘Our research suggests that integrated farming systems, which combine the best practices for producing high yields with low negative environmental impacts, can be more beneficial for the environment than either organic or conventional farming.’

Professor David Macdonald of Oxford University’s WildCRU, who directed the research, said: ‘integrating the needs of food production and wildlife conservation is a major 21st Century challenge – humanity needs both, and it’s only by taking account of all the costs and benefits that the best compromises can be found.’

The research also found that possible alternative land uses should be factored in to any assessment of different farming systems.

Dr Tuomisto said: ‘If you grow food organically you have to use much more land to grow the same amount of food than you would using other methods, meaning this land cannot be used for something else. Once we factored in the potential alternative land uses, both integrated and conventional farming systems, which produce high volumes of food per acre, began to look much more attractive in terms of overall energy use, emissions, and the impact on biodiversity.’

The study considered three different alternative uses for land not used in food production; energy crop production (growing Miscanthus), managed forest, and natural forest. The researchers assumed that biomass from either Miscanthus or managed woodland would be burnt to generate heat.

Explore further: Environmentalists criticise Australia reef protection plan

More information: A report of the research, entitled ‘Comparing energy balances, greenhouse gas balances and biodiversity impacts of contrasting farming systems with alternative land uses’, is published in the journal Agricultural Systems.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lab-grown meat would 'cut emissions and save energy'

Jun 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Meat grown using tissue engineering techniques, so-called ‘cultured meat’, would generate up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally produced meat, according to ...

Organic farming shows limited benefit to wildlife

May 05, 2010

Organic farms may be seen as wildlife friendly, but the benefits to birds, bees and butterflies don't compensate for the lower yields produced, according to new research from the University of Leeds.

Farming commercial miscanthus

Aug 31, 2011

An article in the current issue of Global Change Biology Bioenergy examines the carbon sequestration potential of Miscanthus plantations on commercial farms.

UN calls for eco-friendly farming to boost yields

Jun 13, 2011

The United Nations food agency on Monday called for greater use of environmentally sustainable techniques by poor farmers in order to increase crop intensity to feed the world's growing population.

Recommended for you

Specialized species critical for reefs

6 hours ago

One of Australia's leading coral reef ecologists fears that reef biodiversity may not provide the level of insurance for ecosystem survival that we once thought.

Projections for climate change in Vermont

12 hours ago

Here's your northern Vermont forecast for the rest of this century: Annual precipitation will increase by between a third and half an inch per decade, while average temperatures will rise some five degrees ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wiyosaya
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
IMHO, nothing really new in this article. "Organic" is a catch-all phrase, IMHO, especially in the context of this article. There are farms out there that do better than "organic" yet still are "organic." For instance - http://www.polyfacefarms.com/
Lurker2358
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
There are ways of maximizing food production of several types of crops through a combination of light traps, solar technologies, and hydroponics.

Since plants absorb certain red and blue wavelengths much better, it would be beneficial to use meta-materials to capture solar energy, sort it by spectrum, and then shift all of the light into the appropriate spectrum through the use of meta-materials.

youtube.com/watch?v=M8Uc9mxXVYE

The applications of these technologies are limitless, because they could be used not only in hydroponics, but space colonization.

Heck, this could even be used in mining to pipe sunlight deep into mines.

The point is, these technologies would allow a square meter of light to optimally feed several square meters of crop plant life, by splitting the light by spectra, and shifting the "wrong" spectra back to red and blue using metamaterials, or PV panels to absorb the "wrong" spectra and power red and blue lamps.
Lurker2358
5 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2012
My point here is that all branches of true science must eventually converge to all applications, in order to make the best use of the energy and nutrients available. If we're going to have 9 billion people in the next several decades, including the U.S. population swelling to about 400 million by 2030, mostly due to immigration, then we need 30% more productivity from the same energy and nutrient resources.

I highly doubt we can add 30% more traditional farmland area without totally destroying what's left of the natural ecosystem.

Cover crops and genetics can only do so much improvements before they hit realistic limits.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2012
began to look much more attractive in terms of overall energy use, emissions, and the impact on biodiversity.

Question is what happens to the impact on human health? Isn't that exactly why people started farming organically - for exactly the reason that