Organic Systems Provide More Value Than Conventional, Research Finds

May 14, 2015 - A newly-published study comparing organically-managed and conventional farmland in New Zealand found that organic fields consistently provide more value per acre in the production of beans, peas, barley and wheat.

The study, authored by Harpinder Sandhu, Ph.D., and a team of scientists from Australia, New Zealand, England, Denmark and the U.S., calculated and compared the value of both “non-traded ecosystem services,” and the market value, of crops produced on matched pairs of ten organic and ten conventional farm fields. The scientists found that organic provided more value using either approach.

“Ecosystem services are the inputs that nature provides,” said Diana Jerkins, Ph.D., research director for OFRF. “In agriculture we don’t usually calculate the value of ecosystem services. But in this analysis, the value of ecosystem services can be compared to the value of a conventional input.”

The Sandhu study assessed two ecosystem services - biological pest control versus conventional pesticide applications, and the nitrogen produced by microbial action versus applications of conventional fertilizers.

Results

The organic systems used fewer external inputs. Compared to conventional yields, organic ones were lower for barley and wheat but similar for beans and peas. Lower yields in barley and wheat were compensated by higher market prices.

Predation rate of aphids and blowfly eggs was significantly higher in organic fields. Due to the extremely low predation rate in the conventional fields, none of these fields had any economic value for biological control.

There was no significant difference between organic and conventional fields for mineralization rates, but the range in economic value was higher in the organic systems with a mean value of $230/ha/yr compared to $157/ha/yr for conventional.

The combined economic values for the two ecosystem services were greater for the organic system in all four crop types, ranging from $178-528/ha/yr for organic systems and $60-244 ha/yr for conventional. The combined economic value, including market value of the crop and the non-market value of the two eccosystem services ranged from $1750-4536/ha/yr in the organic fields and $1585-2560/ha/yr in the conventional fields.

Conclusion

As agricultural intensification occurs to provide sufficient food supply, a future challenge is to understand the value of ecosystem services, and the environmental consequences of intensification. To better understand the potential value of the two ecosystem services studied, the New Zealand farm studies were extrapolated to temperate arable areas in 15 global regions. Total nitrogen consumed and total pesticide use was also determined in those regions. This extrapolation resulted in very high potential economic values of ecosystem services for an organic scenario. The value of these two ecosystem services was more than the total direct costs of pesticides and fertilizers in these 15 regions. In the long term, ecosystem services enhancement will help to optimize production and sustainability of farms.