In addition to analyzing data from our
research trials and developing new domestic
and international research initiatives,
Don reviews dozens of research studies each
week. He'll present the most interesting
of his findings every week on the web site.
As global climate change increases, there are predictions
of increased climatic instability leading to increased
incidence and severity of droughts and flooding and
other extreme climatic events (Sombrock and Gommes,
1996; Weiss and Bradley, 2001). Cropping stability and
the ability to buffer yields during periods of climatic
adversity are critical factors in agriculture’s
ability to support society in the future.
Organic crop systems have a track record of better performance
than conventionally managed systems in this area. A
number of studies have shown that under drought conditions
crops in organically managed systems produce higher
yields than comparable crops managed conventionally
(Dormaar et al., 1988; Stanhill, 1990). This advantage
can result in organic crops outyielding conventional
crops by 70-90% under severe drought conditions (Lockeretz
et al., 1981; Wynen, 1994; Petersen et al., 1999; Lotter,
2003). Others have shown that organically managed crop
systems have lower long-term yield variability, i.e
higher cropping system stability (Henning, 1994; Peters,
1994; Smolik et al., 1995). Swift (1994) proposed that
assessments of crop performance should include analysis
of two components – non-declining crop trends,
and stability of yield from cycle to cycle.
The results of the 21-year Rodale Farming Systems Trial,
in which organic and conventional corn-soybean rotations
are compared, verify these research findings. In all
six drought years in Pennsylvania 1988, 1994, 1995,
1997, 1998, and 1999 – the organic corn outyielded
the conventional corn, by as much as 40%.
The future of food production will entail adapting to
the changing environment, as biological systems have
always done via natural selection. As an example, because
crops use 70% of pumped water, impending shortages of
aquifer-sourced irrigation water in Asia (Brown, 2003)
will force the use of drought-adapted crop systems.
Selection pressure will be favoring crop systems that
are better adapted to stress, and organic agriculture
will be there to fill that niche.
1. Brown, L. R. 2003. Water deficits growing in many
countries. Earth Policy Institute Update #15, www.earth-policy.org.
2. Dormaar, J. F., C. W. Lindwall, and G. C. Kozub.
1988. Effectiveness of manure and commercial fertilizer
in restoring productivity of an artificially eroded
dark brown chermozemic soil under dryland conditions.
Canadian Journal of Soil Science, 68:669-679.
3. Henning, J. 1994. Economics of organic farming in
Canada. In: The Economics of Organic Farming, N. H.
Lampkin and S. Padel, Editor. CAB: Wallingford, UK.
4. Lockeretz, W., G. Shearer, and D. H. Kohl. 1981.
Organic farming in the Corn Belt. Science, 211:540-546.
5. Lotter, D. W. 2003. Organic agriculture. J. Sust.
Agric., 21 (4).
6. Peters, S. E. 1994. Conversion to low-input farming
systems in Pennsylvania, USA: an evaluation of the Rodale
Farming Systems Trial and related economic studies.
In: The Economics of Organic Farming, N. H. Lampkin
and S. Padel, Editor. CAB: Wallingford, UK. p. 265-284
7. Petersen, C., L. Drinkwater, and P. Wagoner. 1999.
The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial: the first
15 years. The Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA.40 p. www.rodaleinstitute.org
8. Smolik, J. D., T. L. Dobbs, and D. H. Rickerl. 1995.
The relative sustainability of alternative, conventional
and reduced-till farming system. American Journal of
Alternative Agriculture, 10 (1):25.
9. Sombrock, W. G. and R. Gommes. 1996. The climate
change-agriculture conundrum. In: Global climate change
and agricultural production, F. A. Bazzaz and W. G.
Sombroek, Editors. FAO; Wiley: Chichester; New York.
10. Stanhill, G. 1990. The Comparative Productivity
of Organic Agriculture. Agriculture, Ecosystems and
Environment, 30 (1-2):1-26.
11. Swift, J. J. 1994. Maintaining the biological status
of soil: a key to sustainable land management? In: Soil
resilience and sustainable land use: proceedings of
a symposium held in Budapest; 28 September to 2 October
1992, including the Second Workshop on the Ecological
Foundations of Sustainable Agriculture (WEFSA II), D.
J. and I.Szabolcs Greenland, Editor. CAB International:
Wallingford, UK. p. 235-247
12. Weiss, H. and R. S. Bradley. 2001. What drives societal
collapse? Science, 291 (5506):988.
13. Wynen, E. 1994. Economics of organic farming in
Australia. In: The Economics of Organic Farming, N.
H. Lampkin and S. Padel, Editor. CAB: Wallingford, UK.