Organic boosts biodiversity and profitability despite smaller yields. Benefits are affected by farmscape context

Photo Credit: Greta Farnedi

There is a growing body of science that shows organic farming supports more biodiversity and can bring in more income than conventional farming, highlighting the environmental and economic benefits of using organic practices. What is less understood is how these benefits are affected by the farming landscape around organic operations. A recent meta-analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that organic farms touted 34% more biodiversity and 50% more profitability than conventional farms despite having 18% lower yields. This meta-analysis considered 60 crop types across six continents. Findings showed that that while organic farms always supported more biodiversity in all landscapes, the benefit to biodiversity was greatest on organic farms surrounded by large farms with monoculture crops. The researchers suggest that in these cases, organic farms provide a refuge for biodiversity. Profitability was driven by higher price premiums, yield and production inputs. Overall, profitability of organic farms was 50% greater than conventional farms, but that benefit decreased for organic farms in ag-intensive areas. The location of organic farms also made a difference for profitability where organic farms near urban areas where median incomes were greater experienced more profitability than organic farms in very rural and ag-intensive areas where there is less infrastructure set up to support organic markets. Conclusions on profitability were limited to data collected in the United States. This study highlights the gaps in research on profitability in the rest of the world, particularly in developing countries and tropical organic systems.