Last September, Best Food Facts asked Dr. Robert Paarlberg to respond to a question, Can Organic Farming Feed the World? Dr. Paarlberg is the Betty Freyhof Johnson Class of 1944 Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College and Adjunct Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.
Dr. Robert Paarlberg
Dr. Paarlberg: "I am happy to give organic farming all the opportunity it might need to prove its potential. Currently, however, USDA data indicates that organic crop yields in the United States (on actual commercial farms, not test plots) are only 40-70 percent as high as conventional crop yields, so switching from conventional to organic would require half again as much land to produce the same amount of food. Where would that land come from?
"If organic methods are so productive, why - after several decades now of high premiums for organically grown food - have so few conventional farmers switched to organic? It can't be because of federal crop subsidies, because growers or organic corn or wheat are just as eligible for subsidies as conventional growers. Nor can it be a 'conventional' bias in USDA research, because only a small part of that research has gone into the things - like synthetic chemicals - that organic growers cannot use. Most agricultural research in the United States today comes from private companies, who simply respond to market potential. So, we have to suspect that conventional growers in the United States have not switched to organic because both the land costs and the labor costs are too high.
"Advocates for organic farming almost never address these much higher land and labor costs, but they are the most obvious reason why 99.5 percent of crop farming in the United States today remains conventional."
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