Economic performance of organic farming is improved by diverse crop rotations, but not reduced tillage

There is a growing body of science that shows organic farming is more profitable than conventional. While this is largely attributed to higher premiums paid for the organic brand, a recent study published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems goes a step further to show that profitability is assured when crops with the highest premiums are grown and when practices that improve yields like diversification of crop rotations are used. In this study, reducing tillage, which in turn promotes soil health, did not improve profitably as expected. Economic performance of farming depends on the cost of production, the yield of the crop, and the price paid for the crop. This study explored the impacts of two organic practices that are known to affect economic performance: diversification of crop rotations and tillage. The benefits of diverse crop rotations and reduced tillage are well documented and so the researchers hypothesized that increased rotation diversity and reduced tillage would both independently and synergistically improve economic performance of the organic farming operation. They found that indeed, diversity of crop rotations results in greater profitability for farmers in the long run,  however, reducing the amount of tillage did not improve economic performance. This is important because meeting the bottom line is critical for any farmer to stay in business and it can be challenging to choose practices that benefit the environment when they reduce profitability. These results highlight the urgency to develop better no-till or reduced-till tools for weed management so that organic farmers can continue to use best practices and meet their bottom lines.