The answer is yes, according to new research in the Sept.-Oct. issue of Agronomy Journal. In an analysis of 18 years of crop yield and farm management data from a long-term University of Minnesota trial, an organic crop rotation was consistently more profitable and carried less risk of low returns than conventional corn and soybean production, even when organic prime premiums were cut by half.
Previous research has almost universally found the same thing: Organic farming practices can compete economically with conventional methods, says the current study's leader, Timothy Delbridge, a Univ. of Minnesota doctoral student in agricultural economics. However, these conclusions are mostly based on findings from short-term trials in small plots.
What sets the Minnesota study apart is both the large size of its experimental farm plots (165 feet by 92 feet) and the trial's longevity. "Doing an economic study like this, it's important to get as complete a picture of the yield variability as we can," Delbridge says. "So, the length of this trial is a big asset. We're pretty confident that the full extent of the yield variability came through in the results."
What gave organic production the edge wasn't higher crop yields, however; instead it was organic price premiums. In their absence, the net return from a 2-yr, conventional corn-soybean rotation averaged $342 per acre, compared to $267/ac for a 4-yr organic rotation (corn-soybean-oat/alfalfa-alfalfa), and $273/ac for its 4-yr conventional counterpart. When a full organic premium was applied, though, the average net return from organic production rose to $538/ac, significantly outperforming the conventional systems both in terms of profitability and risk. And organic production was still more profitable when the price premium was reduced by 50%.
Organic price premiums are often the main reason why farmers think about switching to organic production, Delbridge explains, which means they also often wonder what would happen if the premiums declined. It's for this reason that the researchers considered different premium levels (full, half, and none) in their analysis—not because they necessarily expect the premiums to go away anytime soon, he notes.
The cost of production was also a factor: The conventional 2-yr rotation had higher production costs on average ($198/ac) than either the 4-yr conventional rotation ($164/ac) or the organic one ($166/ac). The difference primarily came in weed management, Delbridge says. The price of purchasing chemical herbicides in the 2-yr conventional rotation exceeded the cost of controlling weeds mechanically in the organic system, leading to higher overall production costs in the conventional rotation, even though organic production involved more field operations, Delbridge adds.
Delbridge cautions that the analysis relied on organic yields from an experimental trial that sometimes exceeded the average yields actually achieved by organic corn and soybean producers in Minnesota. It also didn't consider the overhead and fixed costs of farming. He's now involved in a second project that is comparing the economics of organic and conventional production in a whole-farm system.
More importantly, he adds, "What we're looking at here are results between an established organic and an established conventional system. This research doesn't take into consideration the issue of the transition itself: how difficult or costly that may be."
Still, if growers can successfully weather the transition, the study offers convincing new evidence that the change will be a lucrative one over the long haul.
To receive a copy of the research article, please contact Sara Uttech: 608-268-4948, email@example.com.
A peer-reviewed international journal of agriculture and natural resource sciences, Agronomy Journal is published six times a year by the American Society of Agronomy, with articles relating to original research in soil science, crop science, agroclimatology and agronomic modeling, production agriculture, and software. For more information visit: www.agronomy.org/publications/aj.
The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), www.agronomy.org, is a scientific society helping its 8,000+ members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy by supporting professional growth and science policy initiatives, and by providing quality, research-based publications and a variety of member services.
Sara Uttech | EurekAlert!
Fighting a destructive crop disease with mathematics
21.06.2017 | University of Cambridge
Unusual soybean coloration sheds a light on gene silencing
20.06.2017 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Information Technology
23.06.2017 | Materials Sciences
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy