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June 27, 2000


organic myths -- 5 responses to Klaas Martens


It is distressing to read, among the informed well-written opinions on
this listserv, such utter nonsense about organic farming...<<<

Upon reviewing many of the posted articles on so-called "organic" farming,
few objections seem to be registered against the practice itself. The
reason the subject is so vociferously discussed here is the efforts by the
"organic" industry to pressure governments to certify "organic" products
as somehow inherently superior in quality and nutrition, and the practice
of "organic" farming somehow more sustainable than others when the weight
of evidence clearly does not support either claim. The political connection
between the "organic" industry and various eco-reactionary groups
threatens both the free exchange of scientific fact and opinion, and the
free market right of food and feed producers to choose what to grow on
their land, and what production methods to use. This also foments
appropriate objection and discussion on this forum.

Jeff Clothier
Web Coordinator
Employee Communications
Pioneer Hi-Bred, International, Inc.
Des Moines, IA 50306

Date:Jun 28 2000 10:33:08 EDT
From: Andrew Apel
Subject:Re: Organic myths

It is distressing to read claims that organic farming is just as efficient
in producing food as conventional farms, without credible research to back
it up. I am sure that there is anecdotal evidence to support such claims;
you can support just about anything you want with anecdotes.

If organic farming is just as efficient as conventional, I have to wonder
why US mainstream agriculture abandoned "organic." Farmers are quite good
at maximizing the efficiency of their resources; it's their business.

I can hear it already: "US farmers have been duped by the propaganda of
the giant multinational chemical corporations." If that's the case, prove
it. Prove that organic agriculture is just as efficient with credible,
side-by-side comparisons of staple crops, i.e., maize, soybeans, canola,
cotton, potatoes, etc. If you can prove that US farmers can get just as
much output from their farms without buying fertilizers, pesticides and
herbicides, North American agriculture will beat a path to your doorstep.

kandmhfarm@sprintmail.com wrote:

> It is distressing to read, among the informed well-written opinions on
> this listserv, such utter nonsense about organic farming.

> Organic farming is NOT low yield farming as it has been described
> repeatedly. There are high yielding organic farms and low yielding ones
just as there are with "conventional" farming.

Date: Jun 28 2000 11:27:34 EDT
From: Alex Avery
Subject: Re: Organic myths

Klass, these are good points. However, on the organic yield/land use
issue--several prominent and fully informed scientists have analyzed the
amount of organic nitrogen available for food production and all have
concluded that organic sources fall far short of the amount needed to
sustain current crop production, let alone the increased production needed
to meet future demand.

The USDA estimated in 1978 (Gilbertson) that the U.S. has perhaps enough
organic nitrogen to supply 28% of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer needs. This
is, I admit, a rather dated report and the Council on Agricultural Science
and Technology (CAST) is supposed to be updating their own numbers. The
CAST team members tell us their final estimate will not be significantly
different than previous estimates. Garth Youngberg, editor of the Wallace
Institute's American Journal of Alternative Agriculture told us that about
a third of the average U.S. organic farm is in fallow or green manure
crops at any give moment in order to build fertility.

Regardless, all of the estimates we've seen say that even if we use all
sources of organic nitrogen (animal manure, green manure crops, cover
crops, human waste, crop residue, food scraps and the organic stuff
currently being landfilled) we'd still have less than half the current
nitrogen fertilizer use. What do you say to this?

I believe your equal yield assertions are exaggerated, but let us discuss
this openly and with respect. So far, I have seen only one report
claiming equal or greater yields from organic production after the total
land used has been incorporated into the calculations. That was a single
study in the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture (sorry, but I
can't find that issue right now, but I'm thinking it was from late 1998 or
early 1999.)

I believe a more representative experience is that of a Swedish farm,
reported in Volume 14, num. 1, 1999 issue of AJAA (pgs. 37-42). In this
example, 21 hectares of the farm is devoted to a mix of forage and grain
crops (clover, grass, small grains, field peas). Vegetables are grown on
only 3 of the 49 hectares of the farm, in a four-year rotation using a
combination of animal manure (from the animals raised on the farm using a
combination of forage, pasture, and feed) and crop rotations to fertilize
the vegetable plots. Two out of every four years of the full vegetable
crop rotation are green manure crops which are not harvested. As this
report itself notes: "[the owner] notes that yields are 'somewhat' lower
than would be obtained with conventional fertilizers...." (pg. 38)
although I'm fairly certain that he is not factoring in the fallow periods
in his yield comparison, which would severly cut the per hectare yield
estimates further.

Do you have examples, such as the one I cited in the AJAA, which support
your "equal or greater yield" assertion?

Thank you for your participation in the discussion and your willingness to
discuss these issues respectfully.

Alex Avery
Hudson Institute
Center for Global Food Issues

At 12:41 AM 6/28/00 -0500, kandmhfarm@sprintmail.com wrote:
>AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
>It is distressing to read, among the informed well-written opinions on
>this listserv, such utter nonsense about organic farming.
Date: Jun 28 2000 13:20:11 EDT
From: "Tony Trewavas"
Subject: organic mythology

This letter is in reference to one of Klaas Martens concerning some
aspects of organic yields.

1. Certainly farms vary in yield because of climate and soil quality and
other reasons. That makes direct comparisons very difficult unless the
farm uses both kinds in a split field or quarter field scenario. I think
someone posted somthing on the network from the University of Wisconsin
which indicated yields of organic potatos about two thirds of

2. However there is no known method of conjuring nitrogen out of nowhere.
If alfafa fixes about 200 K of N/ha and this is ploughed in assuming no
winter losses and 100% efficiency or recycling then this can only turn
into 200 kg of protein in the succeeding crop the following year. If the
crop is corn at 5% protein
then this leads to 4 metric tons of corn/ha. Since the field is only used
for corn half the time then the yield is 2 tonnes/ha/year.

3. I referred to alfafa as semitropical/ Living in Scotland as I do then
France is semitropical at least to me. I do not know of extensive alfafa
use in Scotland. However Klaas is number 14 to point out to me that
alfafa is lucerne; my mistake i had it confused with another crop.

4. The record yields of corn in the USA are 20 metric tons/ha. This was
reported in an article in Science about 18 months ago. The average yield
is about 7 tons/ha (same article). The best I have seen for organic
yields are the same 7 tons/ha but this did not take into account the extra
land required to produce the manure.

5. You have to be careful as to what is described as organic. In the UK
this means no artificial fertiliser at all. But I have seen US texts
which state that fertiliser was used in organic farming; here I would
suspect we would call these integrated crop management systems. Not
organic.It is important to distinguish the two and I am not sure that was
done in Klaas message. Careful application of minerals along with manure
can be very productive and you do not need much supplement to get high
crop yields.

6. If Klass is to claim the very high yields that he did for one organic
field this could only be achieved by leaving the field year after year
with alafafa to build up the soil N. But his claim was that it was clover
anyway. But then of course the field yields nothing except when you
produce a crop on it. So on an annual basis you are still badly off. I
think the correct measure should be an annual yield /ha

7. Potassium and phosphate are separate problems since no fertiliser
means that only recycling and rain water can provide the necessary

8. True comparisons are rare between organic and conventional fields.
CWS farming systems in teh UK keep 110ha organic farm along with ICM.
Their complaint is that green manure does not provide the
N when it is needed in canopy expansion. If they go for winter crops then
they have trouble with heavy soils; if they go for spring crops they get
lower yields and winter rain leaching of N.

9. Crop rotation solves a lot of problems but in organc farming you
either have to alternate with a legume crop, lower N fixed/ha than alfafa.
Or you rely on soil nitrogen fixers to do teh job for you. Their yield is
about one quarter alfafa or less if I remember.

Sorry Klaas . I think I had it right the first time.

Kind regards

Anthony Trewavas FRS
Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
Mayfield Road
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH9 3JH
Phone 44 (0)1316505328
Fax 44 (0)1316505392
email Trewavas@ed.ac.uk
web site http://www.ed.ac.uk/~gidi/main.html
To view the web site simply click on the address

Date: Jun 28 2000 13:55:50 EDT
From: david.nicholl@nabri.Novartis.com
Subject: organic food

Klaas Martens Wrote: Organic farming is NOT low yield farming as it has
been described repeatedly. There are high yielding organic farms and low
yielding ones just as there are with "conventional" farming. The biggest
factors in yield are soils and climate. In several American multiyear
comparisons between organic and conventional farming that actually took a
systems aproach, yields were equal after a 2 to 3 year transition period
with organic yields significantly higher in drought years. I have seen
organic corn yield more than 14000Kg/Ha in the United States more than
once myself. Those crops grew on a farm that used no manure and had no
livestock. The nitrogen that produced those yields came from a clover
cover crop grown over the winter, saving soil and water quality and not
removing any land from production during the main growing season.

If the above is true then why is organic produce so expensive? It should
be cheaper since it doesn't require expensive crop protection chemicals
and fertilizers. Maybe we should get Al Gore to ask the Justice
Department for an inquiry into price gouging by the Organic Industry.

David Nicholl
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