Guest commentary by David Middleton
New study challenges beliefs about organic ag
BY MARK LYNAS
APRIL 9, 2018
Organic agriculture is not as good for the environment as commonly believed, according to a new scientific study reviewing multiple lines of evidence over more than two decades.
The study, conducted by German researchers Eva-Marie Meemken and Matin Qaim from the University of Goettingen and published in the journal Annual Review of Resource Economics, challenges many beliefs that have helped the organic food industry grow into an $82 billion global market.
However, Meemken and Qaim also make clear that the scientific evidence shows that organic is better in some specific situations, and that the best strategy overall may be to combine conventional and organic approaches.
In general, the study concludes that while organic farming is more environmentally friendly per unit of land than conventional approaches, it is not better for the environment when assessed in terms of units of output.
This is because organic farming generally has lower yields — between 19-25 percent, on average — although the picture is complicated between different crops and locations.
The lower land-use efficiency of organic systems means that “large-scale conversion to organic would likely require bringing more natural habitats into agricultural production,” with a potentially severe impact on global biodiversity due to the loss of rainforests and other currently wild areas.
Although organic farms tend to have lower nitrogen inputs and better carbon sequestration, more use of fuel and animal manures counterbalances this effect, Meemken and Qaim conclude.
“Overall, the evidence does not support the widely held notion that organic agriculture is more climate friendly than conventional agriculture,” they write.
This falls under the heading of: No Schist Sherlock. Pretty well all feel-good virtue signalling is at best irrelevant and often actually worse for the environment and less “climate friendly” (whatever the frack that means) than the conventional way of doing things. Furthermore, the concept of “climate-friendly agriculture” is as bass-ackwards as a concept could be.
The Little Ice Age was an agriculture-hostile climate. Climate is either agriculture-friendly or agriculture-hostile. Despite the recent consumption of a salad that was grown entirely in Antarctica… The continent of Antarctica has, by far, the most agriculture-hostile climate on Earth. Climate-friendly agriculture won’t make Antarctica any more amenable to agriculture than it has been for most of the past 35 million years.
What Is Organic Chemistry?
Organic chemistry is the study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-containing compounds, which include not only hydrocarbons but also compounds with any number of other elements, including hydrogen (most compounds contain at least one carbon–hydrogen bond), nitrogen, oxygen, halogens, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur. This branch of chemistry was originally limited to compounds produced by living organisms but has been broadened to include human-made substances such as plastics. The range of application of organic compounds is enormous and also includes, but is not limited to, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, food, explosives, paints, and cosmetics.
If there’s “at least one carbon–hydrogen bond” involved, it’s organic. If not, it’s likely to be inorganic.
What Is Inorganic Chemistry?
Inorganic chemistry is concerned with the properties and behavior of inorganic compounds, which include metals, minerals, and organometallic compounds. While organic chemistry is defined as the study of carbon-containing compounds and inorganic chemistry is the study of the remaining subset of compounds other than organic compounds, there is overlap between the two fields (such as organometallic compounds, which usually contain a metal or metalloid bonded directly to carbon).
Until humans figure out a way to subsist on salt, water and metals, all agriculture will be “organic.”
This past weekend, we went shopping at Central Market in Dallas and I just couldn’t resist taking a picture of this:
WTF is an “organic valley”?
V-shaped valleys are generally carved by rivers. U-shaped valleys are generally carved by glaciers.
What on Earth could carve an “organic valley”? Vegans with organic shovels? An organic glacier? A river of organic water?
Note: Furthermorer and furthermorest are not typos. They are words I made up for this post… A sort of homage to organic agriculture, organic valleys and climate-friendly agriculture. Well, maybe not an homage.