Organic Farms Produce Less, but Are More Cost Effective, Study Finds

Researchers in Germany highlighted the difference between conventional and organic farming in terms of real costs and yields.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Mar. 2, 2023 00:16 UTC

A decade-long study in Germany found that con­ven­tional agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion is nearly dou­ble that of organic agri­cul­ture.

However, the research also showed that con­vert­ing to organic farm­ing might sig­nif­i­cantly ben­e­fit the envi­ron­ment while reduc­ing costs.

We need to stop sim­pli­fy­ing the com­plex­ity of a var­ied ecosys­tem, leave behind inten­sive land use and adopt agro-eco­log­i­cal organic farm­ing prac­tices.- Maria Grazia Mammuccini, pres­i­dent, FederBio

The study by Munich Technical University demon­strated that con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture costs up to €800 per hectare more than organic farm­ing.

For the study, the researchers accounted for the usual farm­ing expenses, includ­ing the costs related to the envi­ron­men­tal impact of the two dif­fer­ent farm­ing approaches, such as those derived from the effects of green­house gas emis­sions.

See Also:Italy’s Organic Food Sales More than Doubled in the Past Decade

They deter­mined that tran­si­tion­ing to organic farm­ing could sig­nif­i­cantly reduce emis­sions and costs. For exam­ple, if 30 per­cent of farm­land is suc­cess­fully con­verted to organic prac­tices by 2030, as stip­u­lated by the cur­rent pol­icy in Germany, sav­ings will exceed €4 bil­lion, the researchers said.

The study fol­lowed the per­for­mance of 40 con­ven­tional and 40 organic farms, which sci­en­tists found more envi­ron­men­tally friendly.

The researchers attrib­uted this to the lack of chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides and nitro­gen fer­til­iz­ers used in organic farm­ing. Additionally, the humus of the soil in organic farms fixes a higher quan­tity of car­bon due to prac­tices such as crop rota­tion and plant­ing legu­mi­nous cover crops.

The researchers high­lighted how crop rota­tion could deliver sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits through car­bon diox­ide seques­tra­tion, with farm­lands func­tion­ally trans­formed into car­bon sinks.

Some of these prac­tices are included in the European Union’s new Common Agricultural Policy, which pro­vides addi­tional funds to farm­ers fol­low­ing advanced soil-pre­serv­ing tech­niques.

Common Agricultural Policy

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a European Union pol­icy that was estab­lished in 1962 to sup­port and pro­tect agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion in mem­ber states. The CAP is pri­mar­ily focused on ensur­ing a sta­ble sup­ply of food at afford­able prices for E.U. cit­i­zens, while also pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment, and sup­port­ing rural com­mu­ni­ties. The pol­icy pro­vides finan­cial sub­si­dies to farm­ers, reg­u­lates pro­duc­tion lev­els and sets stan­dards for ani­mal wel­fare and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

The research also found other crit­i­cal dif­fer­ences between con­ven­tional and organic farms, includ­ing fewer ani­mals in organic farms, the reduced use of fos­sil fuels and lower land use inten­sity.

Still, the study demon­strated that con­ven­tional farm­ing yields could almost dou­ble organic out­put. However, the researchers said this might change over time with fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion.

There are many stud­ies con­firm­ing that if we con­sider the yield per hectare, per year, organic farm­ing tends to be from 8 to 25 per­cent less pro­duc­tive than con­ven­tional ones,” Maria Grazia Mammuccini, an organic olive farmer and pres­i­dent of the Italian organic fed­er­a­tion FederBio, told Olive Oil Times.

Still, if you wish to cap­ture the exact pic­ture, you can­not stop at such mea­sure­ments,” she added. Organic farm­ing aims to nur­ture the soil, whereas con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture aims to nur­ture the plant.”

According to Mammuccini, the key to cor­rectly read­ing data about organic farm­ing is the impact on organic farm­ing soil com­pared to con­ven­tional farm­ing regimes.


Organic farm­ers work to give back to the soil… and they do that by nat­ural means, such as com­post or manure,” she said. Conventional farm­ing uses arti­fi­cial fer­til­iz­ers to boost plant pro­duc­tion.”

Therefore, organic farm­ing tends to pre­serve the soil, not only to pro­duce the food needed today but also to leave a fer­tile soil for future gen­er­a­tions,” she added. Conventional farm­ing, includ­ing inten­sive farm­ing, is one of the engines of deser­ti­fi­ca­tion, which is why one can­not mea­sure organic yields only by look­ing at pro­duc­tion vol­umes.”

The European Union’s sus­tain­able devel­op­ment goals include con­vert­ing at least 25 per­cent of the bloc’s agri­cul­tural land to organic prac­tices by 2030. Currently, only about 9 per­cent of E.U. farm­land is organic.

A report from IFOAM Organics International, a non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion, found that organic agri­cul­ture is prac­ticed in 191 coun­tries. Additionally, more than 76 mil­lion hectares of agri­cul­tural land are man­aged organ­i­cally by at least 3.7 mil­lion farm­ers.

The report also found the global organic food mar­ket will be worth approx­i­mately €125 bil­lion in 2021, a 3‑percent increase com­pared with last year.

According to Mammuccini, expand­ing organic farm­land should result in a new approach to organic farm­ing.

It should not be con­sid­ered a niche any­more. Instead, it should be treated as the most rel­e­vant con­veyor of inno­v­a­tive agro-friendly prac­tices,” she said. Organic farm­ing inno­va­tions also can be used in con­ven­tional farm­ing oper­a­tions to reduce their envi­ron­men­tal impact.”

We need to stop sim­pli­fy­ing the com­plex­ity of a var­ied ecosys­tem, leave behind inten­sive land use and adopt agro-eco­log­i­cal organic farm­ing prac­tices,” Mammuccini added, which she con­cluded would result in more spe­cialty local pro­duc­tion.

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