Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land, according to new findings that  refute the longstanding assumption that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population.

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that in developed countries, yields were almost equal on organic and conventional farms. In developing countries, food production could double or triple using organic methods, says Ivette Perfecto, PhD, an associate professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, and one of the study’s principal investigators.

“My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,” says Dr. Perfecto, who specializes in tropical ecology, agroecology and political ecology.

In addition to equal or greater yields, the authors found that those yields could be accomplished using existing quantities of organic fertilizers and without putting more farmland into production.

The idea to undertake an exhaustive review of existing data about yields and nitrogen availability was fueled in a roundabout way, when Dr. Perfecto and coauthor Catherine Badgley, PhD, were teaching a class about the global food system and visiting farms in Southern Michigan.

“We were struck by how much food the organic farmers would produce,” Dr. Perfecto says. So, the researchers began compiling data from published literature to investigate the two chief objections to organic farming: low yields and lack of organically acceptable nitrogen sources.

Their findings refute those key arguments, Dr. Perfecto says, and confirm that organic farming is less environmentally harmful and can potentially produce more than enough food. This is especially good news for developing countries, where it’s sometimes impossible to deliver food from outside, so farmers must supply their own. Yields in developing countries could increase dramatically by switching to organic farming, Dr. Perfecto says. 

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this story.