ITHACA, N.Y., July 13, 2005, Cornell University,
[via agnet]: Organic farming produces the same
yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming,
but uses 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides,
a review of a 22-year farming trial study concludes.
David Pimentel, a Cornell University professor of ecology
and agriculture, concludes, "Organic farming offers
real advantages for such crops as corn and soybeans."
Pimentel is the lead author of a study that is published
in the July issue of Bioscience (Vol. 55:7) analyzing
the environmental, energy and economic costs and benefits
of growing soybeans and corn organically versus conventionally.
The study is a review of the Rodale Institute Farming
Systems Trial, the longest running comparison of organic
vs. conventional farming in the United States.
"Organic farming approaches for these crops not
only use an average of 30 percent less fossil energy
but also conserve more water in the soil, induce less
erosion, maintain soil quality and conserve more biological
resources than conventional farming does," Pimentel
The study compared a conventional farm that used recommended
fertilizer and pesticide applications with an organic
animal-based farm (where manure was applied) and an
organic legume-based farm (that used a three-year rotation
of hairy vetch/corn and rye/soybeans and wheat). The
two organic systems received no chemical fertilizers
Inter-institutional collaboration included Rodale Institute
agronomists Paul Hepperly and Rita Seidel, U.S. Department
of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service research
microbiologist David Douds Jr. and University of Maryland
agricultural economist James Hanson. The research compared
soil fungi activity, crop yields, energy efficiency,
costs, organic matter changes over time, nitrogen accumulation
and nitrate leaching across organic and conventional
"First and foremost, we found that corn and soybean
yields were the same across the three systems,"
said Pimentel, who noted that although organic corn
yields were about one-third lower during the first four
years of the study, over time the organic systems produced
higher yields, especially under drought conditions.
The reason was that wind and water erosion degraded
the soil on the conventional farm while the soil on
the organic farms steadily improved in organic matter,
moisture, microbial activity and other soil quality
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 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.
Pimentel noted that although cash crops cannot be grown
as frequently over time on organic farms because of
the dependence on cultural practices to supply nutrients
and control pests and because labor costs average about
15 percent higher in organic farming systems, the higher
prices that organic foods command in the marketplace
still make the net economic return per acre either equal
to or higher than that of conventionally produced crops.
Organic farming can compete effectively in growing
corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and other grains, Pimentel
said, but it might not be as favorable for growing such
crops as grapes, apples, cherries and potatoes, which
have greater pest problems.
The study was funded by the Rodale Institute and included
a review of current literature on organic and conventional
According to Pimentel, dozens of scientific papers
reporting on research from the Rodale Institute Farming
Systems Trial have been published in prestigious refereed
journals over the past 20 years.