Thursday, 26 April 2012

Half Full or Half Empty? Two Readings of the Same Data on Organic Agiruculture

This morning, underneath a banner story in Le Devoir about continuing conflict between student groups and the Quebec government over tuition fee hikes, I was encouraged to read a report that organic agriculture can be as productive as agriculture using chemicals. 

What I didn't pay too much attention to were the nuances that journalist Pauline Gravel noted: yields reported in the 66 studies included in the mega-analysis (just published in Nature) were just about as good in fruits like strawberries and oil seeds like soy, but that they were lower in cereals and vegetables.  Her headline read, "When organic agriculture is a productive as traditional agriculture."

The original Nature article was headed "Organic farming is rarely enough: Conventional agriculture gives higher yields under most conditions."

Both headlines are correct as far as they go, although it's clear that the Nature article can be used to barying ends.  But does it mean that because wheat doesn't grow as well unless it gets nitrogen-rich fertilizer, we should not clamour for strawberries, tomatoes and root crops grown organically? 

Not at all.  There are externalities involved (like transportation costs and  chemical runoff) that weren't considered in the studies. 

Nor was the matter of taste raised. As for me, I'm looking forward to August when the local organic tomatoes are in season: now, that's real eating.

We may have to pay more, however

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