Friday, July 29, 2005

Good News For Everyone

Cornell University is reporting that organic farming is more than competitive with conventional methods. (Link goes to the Treehugger article. The report itself isn't available online, but Cornell's press release is here.)

First off, this is excellent news for everyone on the planet who eats, breathes, or drinks water. Sadly, the way we get our food is one of the largest sources of water and air pollution. The idea that it should be possible to grow our food without resorting to fertilizers and pesticides (which are ineffective in the long-term anyway) is excellent, period.

One of the most interesting things that I saw was this:
The fact that organic agriculture systems also absorb and retain significant amounts of carbon in the soil has implications for global warming, Pimentel said, pointing out that soil carbon in the organic systems increased by 15 to 28 percent, the equivalent of taking about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per hectare out of the air.

Among the study's other findings:
  • In the drought years, 1988 to 1998, corn yields in the [organic] legume-based system were 22 percent higher than yields in the conventional system.
  • The soil nitrogen levels in the organic farming systems increased 8 to 15 percent. Nitrate leaching was about equivalent in the organic and conventional farming systems.
  • Organic farming reduced local and regional groundwater pollution by not applying agricultural chemicals.
So it gets better and better - not only does organic food sequester more CO2 than conventional agriculture, but organic agriculture actually resists droughts better than conventional methods. This means that not only can organic farming help combat climate change, but it's also likely to survive whatever climate change does happen.

Now, if we can bring the costs down (shifting subsidies, anyone?) maybe we can finally get our food industry off of what Vandana Shiva has called the chemical "treadmill" - the process by which we kill the land with fertilizers (requiring more fertilizers) and produce pesticide-resistant insects, requiring more pesticide. It's better for farmers (lower input costs), better for the environment, and incidentally better for humans.

No comments: