What, you say, how can this be? What could Michigan and Michigan St. possibly be battling over in the middle of summer? No, it’s not preseason football; it’s not even sport fishing. The battle today, my friends (as highlighted here in The Ann Arbor News and here on UM’s website), is about organic farming.
So, in some sense we have a double header: organic farming vs. ‘conventional’ farming and Michigan vs. Michigan State. At issue: just how competitive is organic farming compared to petroleum-based farming? Well, according to a new study by some folks over at Michigan, it’s pretty darn competitive. In fact, their study claims that it can actually out-produce our current petroleum-based methods.
The news article points out just how much more productive Catherine Badgley found organic farms to be:
For example, their research showed that yields of organic corn ranged from 84 percent of what conventionally grown corn yielded, all the way up to 130 percent.
“It even surprised us,” Badgley said. “We expected we might find that it might be oh, 80 percent or something simply because that’s the number that has been cited in the past.”
But not everyone is buying into her results. Juts over yonder, at one of the Michigan State Agricultural Extensions, is Mike Score, who said that in his experience farmer’s just haven’t been able to get those kind of numbers using organic methods.
“I don’t think that’s been attained,” Score said. “The farmers I’ve worked with have not been able to equal yields (with organic methods) in all cases.”
Ivette Perfecto, one of the authors of the paper and a researcher at Michigan, addressed the concern that a switch to organic farming will create starving masses:
“Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies, as well as fertilizer companies – all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food,” she said.
The article is part of a larger special issue in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems on the organic farming debate. And while there is still much to be debated, the important thing to note here is this: people are actually doing research on this topic. Will organic farming provide a viable alternative to petroleum-based farming? Who knows, but it’s about time we started investigating it rather than simply using the ‘starving masses’ rhetoric as a way to draw funds for biotech as the exclusive answer.
*JR’s bio can be found at the end of his first guest post, on the EPA and Endocrine Disrupters, here.