Is “Organic” actually worse for the environment?

Before you join our discussion, be sure to read the main article:


Some key points:

  • “The reason why organic food is so much worse for the climate is that the yields per hectare are much lower, primarily because fertilizers are not used.”
  • “The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation…”
  • “Even organic meat and dairy products are – from a climate point of view – worse than their conventionally produced equivalents…”
  • “The type of food is often much more important. For example, eating organic beans or organic chicken is much better for the climate than to eat conventionally produced beef…”

IMPORTANT NOTE: The article states that organic farms do not user fertilizers.  While I’m not sure about Swedish organic farms, most if not all US-based organic farms do actually use fertilizers.  However, to be classified as an organic farm, those fertilizers (and their pesticides) must be naturally occurring.  What those farmers might use is cow manure, bone meal, compost, etc.  While those fertilizers do bost good yields for home gardens or smaller organic farms, this article is focused on largescale productions.


Organic is actually worse for the environment?

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden discovered some pretty interesting data in terms of organic farming and its impact on the environment.  To conventional farmers and consumers who are aware of the false claims from organic supporters, this data is pretty darn great to see (and something a lot of people have been aware of for a while).

Due to organic farming having to use more land than conventional farming, it’s yields are far lower per hectare (100 acres).  Conventional farming uses fertilizers, natural or synthetic depending on the farm ad crop, while organic farming uses little to no fertilizers to help increase yields.  The purpose of fertilizers is to help provide plants with additional nutrients that might be lacking from the soil.  This boost in nutrients helps the crops grow quicker and usually much healthier.  If certain nutrients are lacking, varying fertilizers can be applied and give the crops the correct amount of each nutrient required for that plant.  Because organic farms do not use fertilizers, their crops rely solely on the nutrients in the soil and get little soil amendment during their growing cycle.  What some organic farms might do is crop rotation or growing various crops throughout the season in hopes of naturally replenishing nutrients in the soil.  For example, let’s say Corn requires a lot of Nitrogen to grow while giving off Phosphorus back into the soil and Soybeans give off Nitrogen and require lots of Nitrogen to grow.  Organic farmers would grow one crop after the other due to the nutrient requirements being a bit different from one another and each crop can naturally replenish the soil with nutrients before the next crop is planted.  While is process is beneficial for the soil, it pales in comparison to the amounts of nutrients fertilizers can add to the soil. 


The Beef with Beef

The article does bring up an interesting topic about beef and that is its sustainability.  As we have discussed in an earlier video on Farm Traveler, beef is not a very sustainable form of agriculture.  Beef cattle are very poor in terms of converting feed to meat, it takes 6 pounds of feed for the cow to gain 1 pound of meat.  In terms of water, beef cattle require roughly 1,799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef (while pork requires 576 gallons of water per pound).  While this stinks, because beef is absolutely delicious, it’s something the ag industry must address.

However, with organic beef, most of the cattle grass feed instead of raised with feed.  This process requires more land area and usually a longer time span for that cow to gain the required weight before processing.  And note, both are still are going to require a vast amount of water during its lifespan.  


What’s the answer to a sustainable future?

No one knows yet.  But we are all working towards that future.  Organic farming is not the future, be sure to tell your organic friends we said that and watch them squirm.  More sustainable conventional farming is most likely going to be the future of agriculture with an increased focus on better use of natural resources, fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, etc.  Science has gotten us this farm and it will continue to shape our future and the future of Ag. 

So moral of the story: Save yourself from the organic lettuce and buy the cheaper, conventional lettuce next time you go to the grocery store.  Your wallet and the planet with thank you.

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