Study: Benefits of organic crops may be overstated

Dive Brief:

  • A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found organic food may not be the “holy grail” solution that most people think, according to the UBC News.
  • The study, published in Science Advances, analyzed organic crop farming across 17 criteria, including yield, impact on climate change, farmer livelihood and consumer health.  
  • While prior research has shown the yield of an organic crop is 19 to 25 percent lower than under conventional management, this study found that the environmental benefits of organic agriculture diminish once lower yields are taken into account.

Dive Insight:

Organic is considered by many consumers and manufacturers to be the future of food, but the category’s success depends on a number of factors including crop yields, impact on climate change, farmer livelihoods and more.

A recent TechSci Research report found the global organic food market is expected to increase at a CAGR of more than 14% from 2016 to 2021. For supply to keep up with this demand, more farmers will need to convert their operations to organic.

The University of British Columbia report revealed the initial wave of organic farmers consisted of producers who cared about the environment, and weren’t as concerned with financial incentives. Most of those transitioning now are doing so for financial gain, but the required three-year transition period has been daunting and expensive.

To help matters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently partnered with the Organic Trade Association to start a program that certifies produce grown on farmland that's in the process of switching to organic, making it easier for farmers to make the transition. The industry is hopeful more farmers will want to get involved in organic farming, increasing the amount of produce available.

The study’s findings suggest organic alone will not create a sustainable food future, but it’s still an important part of the overall picture. Food manufactures including General Mills, which purchased Annie's in 2014, have been cognizant of organic as a pathway for potential growth. As the food industry looks for new sources of revenue, many are likely to develop their own organic products or buy/invest in smaller companies that do.

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Filed Under: Manufacturing Ingredients Packaging / Labeling Sustainability
Top image credit: Ayla87