New study finds that organic farming pays

Photo credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli Photo credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences shows that organic farming is more profitable to farmers than conventional farming. Scientists from Washington State University analyzed data from 44 previously published studies encompassing 55 different crops across 14 countries. To develop a more accurate picture of farm economics, the authors also included data from different cropping systems in their analysis, recognizing that farmers’ income is often derived from multiple crops planted over several seasons. They found that even though organic farming typically results in a lower yields than conventional farming, the premium organic farmers receive for their products makes organic 22 -35% more profitable. The authors also found there is room for organic agriculture to grow. If organic farmers were to completely forgo the premium, profits from conventional farming would still only be 5 -7% higher than organic. This means that even if an increase in organic production were to result in a decrease in organic premium prices, organic farmers would still be making a larger profit than conventional farmers. While this study did not include environmental costs or benefits of conventional or organic farming in the economic analysis, the authors note, “If we also put a price on the negative externalities caused by farming, such as soil erosion or nitrate leaching into groundwater, then organic agriculture would become even more profitable because its environmental footprint has been shown to be less than that of conventional agriculture.” They added, “We found that, in spite of lower yields, organic agriculture was significantly more profitable than conventional agriculture and has room to expand globally. Moreover, with its environmental benefits, organic agriculture can contribute a larger share in sustainably feeding the world.”