Agroecological-organic production of blueberries achieves highest economic, environmental performance

Photo Credit: Farsai Chaikulngamdee

A recent study in the journal Scientia Horticulturae found that agroecological organic production outperformed larger-scale and more intensive organic and conventional production systems. As the demand for organic food increases, organic farming is faced with new challenges related with scaling up to provide a greater supply of organic food. This study quantified the environmental impacts and economic performance of three blueberry production systems: conventional (no limits on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides), agroecological organic (uses practices that build relationships between the soil, plants and insects to control pests and improve soil health), and input-substitution organic (relies on organic approved substances more than practices that support ecosystem functions). To quantify the environmental impacts of each system, the researchers conducted a life cycle assessment that took into consideration greenhouse gas emissions, acidifying pollutants that impact soil, water sources and biological organisms, and freshwater eutrophication that increases plant and algae growth in water sources, choking out important freshwater wildlife. To quantify economic performance, the researchers measured yields and production costs. Larger-scale operations are normally assumed to be the most efficient and often this is considered to be at the expense of environmental health. In this study, however, the most diversified and integrated production system was not only the most environmentally friendly, but also provided the greatest economic gain. This study challenges the notion that intensive farming is the most economical, and provides an example of organic production that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.