Conventional Farming Has Higher Yields than Organic Farming: Is this Sustainable

Lately, a lot of debate has been ranging on as to whether there is any difference in output based on yield between the organic agriculture and the conventional farming. Further, questions as to which of the two has higher yields still range on. A number of analyses have been done with each side trying to support its cause. A study that has been relied upon for quite some time is the one published in 2012 by the Annals of Internal Medicine Journal.

The study, though not authoritatively and candid makes a conclusion that states there is a widened lack of strong support and evidence that makes food produced organically have more nutrient levels compared to the conventional foods. However, this study goes ahead to conclude that organically produced foods have less chemical residues and other strains of bacteria seen as resistant.

Another study supporting this idea has recently been published in a PlusOne Journal this August 2016. This study states that farming area allocated to agricultural use has been on the rise globally. It goes further and explains how past studies looking into the issue of yields between these two forms of farming had been focusing on experiential environment. With this model, the study states that there are limits that often do not expose the maximum potential in commercial agriculture. The main finding of this study was found to be in line with past studies.

This finding illustrated that yields across several crops grown organically were less when compared to conventional farming. The ration of organic to conventional yield was found to be 4:8 or simply explained when an organic yield is 80%, the conventional yield would be 100%. Even with this scenario, the study points out that there were crops in which the yield had no marked changes between the two production systems and in some crops like hay, the yields was more than the conventional production. This status of lower yields achieved through organic farming has those that who oppose organic farming arguing that the world can’t afford an inefficient system.

This system they say is not able nor will it be able to achieve the increased food demand brought about the ever increased global population. This study identifies a key challenge that organic food production faces towards achieving high yields. This main challenge is on the issue of soil fertility more so with the nitrogen nutrient. The other challenge is due to the challenge of pest and weed prevention and control. And this is due to, well, the obvious lack of use of synthetically manufactured pesticides.

The big question at this moment I would like to pose is? Which between the two forms of production is sustainable? We recently did a piece on the definition of sustainable farming as defined by UN FAO. FAO’s definition of organic farming has been anchored on five core principles. These principles are characteristic of sustainable farming. The two key principles we would want to review are enhanced and efficient use of resources and the drive towards conserving the natural resources. Conventional crop production might as accurately been depicted by these studies lead to increased crop yields. But at what cost are we achieving this? Are we prioritizing yields at the expense of sustainability?

Frequently, we have seen the use of crop yield being used over and over as a mark-up of efficiency. It’s in deed true, that yield should form part of a factor that estimates whether any system is efficient or not. However, we need to be cautious not to embrace this at the detriment of existing and available resources. The resource includes water, soil, bio-diversity and energy. Adoption of climate smart technologies such as clean and renewable energy such as solar energy is paramount.

In our quest to achieve higher yields, we need to understand that systems that lead to rapid natural resources depletion and destruction will only lead to increased food insecurity for future generations. Though the current and immediate generation might benefit from this intensive natural resource use, the future generation will be highly unstable in terms of food supply. Short term approaches should not form the basis of policy making but rather long term thinking should always be at the back of those entrusted in making relevant policies governing agriculture.

Conventional farming utilizes a system that uses resources intensively or adopts practices that lead to accelerated natural resource destruction. The use of pesticides has been shown multiple times that it leads to the destruction of ecological balance where important micro-flora in the soil is destroyed. Further, the use of synthetic fertilizers has been shown to alter the PH value of the soils making it unfavorable to the growth of specific crops. The use of herbicides is another issue. These inputs have also been shown to have negative impacts on water resources and biodiversity thereof. A past study found out that the effects of intensive farming on the soil go on for years even with the effort of introducing animal species to regenerate the soil status


  1. As usual the article doesn’t specify HOW crops were grown. If it’s still industrial mono cropping, being organic isn’t going to change much (apart from possibly less poisons, or at least ‘organic’ ones).

    Organic industrial farming is no more sustainable than conventional industrial farming. The comparison should be between sustainable farming and industrial farming, as the United Nations have been doing for years. Their conclusion is the same each year (while being updated with new research): small scale organic farming is the only way to sustainably feed the world.

    1. What exactly are you criticizing here?

      The UN committee is appointed to advises governments on food production, not to start efforts itself. It has neither the resources to do so, nor the authority to make governments do it.

      And anyway, asking what efforts they’re undertaking is beside the point: the point is that the committee is asking the right questions and thus giving sound advice to base policies on, while articles like this one muddy the water by asking vague or wrong questions so that anyone can justify any action.

      It’s up to the governments to pick up on the sound advice and actually make the effort of changing the food system. But it’s also the governments that choose to stick with short term monetary gain instead of working on long term stability, while justifying themselves with results from the flawed research. Beats me why they’d create a committee that they’re just going to ignore anyway -especially since having the committee means they can’t really claim they weren’t aware they were justifying themselves with false information- but there you have it.

      But just because the governments choose to ignore the UN committees advice doesn’t change the validity of the research and conclusions. Nor does it change that a comparison between one industrial form of farming and another doesn’t make sense when talking about sustainable food production, because it’s mostly the industrial aspect that’s making it unsustainable.

  2. This is not good question at all. Why? Because we have to first define what is the yield and what is the ultimate benefit for all long term. Yield is certainly not external look and empty inside, having just bad effects on nature long term, destroying even these yields in near future. Who can ask such a nonsense without base? The question is first of all based on idea that a human is the centre and his own selfishly benefit. All selfishness we know by now (I hope) leads to destruction ultimately.

  3. Organic agriculture is more labor intensive (although permaculture aims at reducing the manual work). This however should not be an issue, since in many countries, many people are looking for work, mainly poorly qualified persons. Politicians don’t care about long term issues: Most likely, they won’t be there anymore! In Europe, after World War two, the strategy was to automate agriculture to free labour resources and allocate them rather to the industry and to the growing service sector. This is no more the case. Isn’ it a non-sense having to pay for people on the doll as well as for chemicals? Politicians who pushed for the conventional agriculture (showing its limitations) should now be told to encourage organic farming.

    1. Are you suggesting that farmers use poor unqualified people to operate $500,000 combines, set yield monitors, GPS etc?

  4. Overall, organic out-produces chemical constantly. They take part of the picture and use that. It’s like the blind men and the elephant. Each man examined a different part of the elephant and thought that was all there was. 200 years ago, the average farm was 22 acres. It fed 1.2 people per acre. Today, the average farm is 360 acres and feeds half of that many people per acre. Yet how they brag on losing production. As Dr. Carver said, get the black back in the soil and farmers will again be wealthy, as they were a century ago (this was said in the 1920s, and today, they’re open to his teaching). All chemical farming has led to is blights and poverty. Most areas in the world, the farmer is respected as intelligent and resourceful. At one time, the children of farmers were expected to attend college and paid for it themselves. In the West, he’s expected to live in or close to poverty. Ultra-modern farmers are leaving chemicals behind. What’s old is new, and we see results in bank accounts, and that’s the bottom line.

  5. I think that agricultural decisions should be left to farmers.

    Politics and opinion and government should be left out. We should look at unbiased facts.

    I will not be judged by someone who lives in a sea of concrete.

    Soil health is important. One of the biggest factors is organic matter. The higher the percentage the healthier the soil…Best way to increase organic matter is to reduce tillage. Meaning no till. If you think this is an opinion then I challenge you to leave Starbucks and go take some 6 and 24 inch soil samples from comparative organic and no till fields, send them to a soil lab and have them explain the results.

    Unless the organic field is a livestock operation with unlimited manure , the organic matter levels will be around 3 percent, maybe. Us no till farmers are maintaining 5 Percent levels in sandy soil with no manure, achieving above average yields with less water, while stomaching public criticism.

    Yes some pesticides kill pollinators, I hate that. Passionately.

    But in one square foot of soil, there is more biological organisms than there are people on Earth (organic matter) and the best way to destroy that is tillage. Not round up. Do the soil tests if you feel this is my opinion. Pick your poison once you see the results.

    Yes organic is great. But until we can consistently organic no till, us food producers are not on board. I say consistently rather than sustainable because every AG hating prick has a different definition of sustainable. As long as it makes me sound evil, the definition fits…We maintain healthy soil, we have amazing yields, raise our children, have part time jobs asside from farming because AG is tough right now and come home and read blogs that say horrible things about us from people that get info from newspaper article and celebrity interviews. Hurray.

    We appreciate your concern, but at least criticize us with facts. Unbiased facts

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