Research Update

Organic farming fully compatible with secure, healthy regional food systems, Austrian researchers find

By Laura Sayre

October 14, 2004: Researchers in Austria have concluded that a hypothetical regional conversion to organic farming would not result in shortages within a self-reliant food system.

R. Kratochvil, M. Kaltenecker and B. Freyer of the Institute of Organic Farming at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria, examined three scenarios for regional self-reliance in food production for the Mostelviertel-Eisenwurzen region.

Located in southwest Austria, with a population of 238,000 and an agricultural area of 165,000 hectares, the Mostelviertel-Eisenwurzen region already boasts the country's largest proportion of organically managed land and is a net exporter of food.

In the first scenario, current agricultural production—87 percent conventional, 13 percent organic—was compared to regional food consumption based on an average Austrian diet. Existing total caloric production was determined to be 5,662 kcal/person/day; while total demand was 3,317 kcal/person/day.

In the second scenario, yields, arable land use, and livestock numbers for the conventional farms were hypothetically 'converted' to organic using published and local data. Allowing for storage and processing losses, the resulting production levels were again compared with regional food consumption based on an average Austrian diet. In this scenario, total production was calculated to be 3,628 kcal/person/day.

In the final scenario, the hypothetical organic production levels were compared with regional food requirements supposing that people's eating habits followed nutritional recommendations. The caloric value of the recommended diet came to just 2,625 kcal/person/day.

In summary, the researchers found that Mostelviertel-Eisenwurzen could remain a net food exporter under 100 percent organic management. Although production of some items decreased under the hypothesized 'conversion' to organic—notably sugar beet, vegetable oil, meat and eggs—demand for many of these items would also fall if people ate according to nutritional guidelines.

Widespread conversion to organics, in other words, could bring production patterns more in line with recommended eating habits and vice versa.

Citation: R. Kratochvil, M. Kaltenecker and B. Freyer, "The ability of organic farming to nourish the Austrian people: an empirical study in the region Mostviertel-Eisenwurzen (A)." Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 19, 1 (March 2004): 47-56.

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