Organic Resilience in Extreme Weather

organic resilience extreme weather

A persistent problem of scientific studies in agriculture is that they’re often too short to be conclusive. If you only collect data for a season or two, you may end up with unusual conditions that don’t reflect the long-term situation on the ground.  When a single study’s been running for four decades, the findings carry more weight.

That’s how long the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial has been going on. Over that stretch of years, it’s accumulated solid data on the differences between organic and conventional farming.

Overall, organic and conventional management have similar yields – except in drought years, when conventional yields plummet but organic yields hold more or less steady, producing about 30% more than conventional.

That’s because – as the study’s deep dataset also shows – the organically managed fields build up larger reserves of soil organic matter, which acts like a sponge to hold more water when the weather takes a break from rain.

Thanks to the yield differential, along with lower operational costs, the organic plots have also been more profitable – even without the organic price premium.

The trial grows corn and soybeans, because those two crops occupy 70% of the farmland in the United States. In addition to the conventional treatment, it actually has two organic systems – one using animal manures, and one using only plant-based fertility.

Agriculture hasn’t sat still over the past 40 years, and the trial has adapted over time to keep pace with the changes. In 2008, all three treatments were split into full- and reduced-tillage treatments, and genetically modified crops were added to the conventional one.

To commemorate the trial’s 40th year, the Rodale Institute released a report on its findings to date. The report can be had free in electronic format from the organization’s website.

Read the Farming Systems Trial Report

Tag(s): organic

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