Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Organic farming better for bottom line

There is nothing “niche” about the recent story on the economics of organic farming in the Agronomy Journal.

The journal reports on an 18-year study demonstrating that organic crop rotation is consistently more profitable than conventional corn and soybean production, even when organic price premiums are cut by half. That is very good news for both organic producers and the agricultural economies in which they operate.

The report is especially important in that it comes from one of the major U.S. professional trade journals for agricultural research — not known as a bastion of progressive thinking on alternative agriculture.

Lower risk of crop loss

The Agronomy Journal report also showed that risks of crop loss were less in the organic system — they're more stable, less vulnerable overall to weather events, pests and diseases that all result in crop loss.

This reduced risk is echoed in USDA data. As reported here last year, the resilience of organic production recently helped win lower crop insurance premiums for some organic farmers — who had actually been paying 5% higher premiums before this change.

Something must be working right. U.S. sales of organic food and beverages continue to grow even in these economically hard times, increasing from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010, including a 7.7% jump between 2009 and 2010. 

Ecological weed control costs less

The study found that the cost of production was less in organic systems, even though organic production involved more field operations (which, by the way, means jobs).

The savings was primarily from lack of herbicide inputs. Instead of using chemical weed control, organic farmers often use cover crops to effectively control weeds. These cover crops then do double duty as fertilizer, when they are plowed in to return key nutrients to the soil.

Visit our agroecology pages for more stories on how and why organic (and other agroecological practices) are productive, resilient, fair and sustainable — and good for a farmer's bottom line.

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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