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Daily News Blog

05
Feb

In a Landscape Context, Organic Cropland Provides Refuge to Biodiversity and Is More Profitable than Chemical-Intensive Sites

(Beyond Pesticides, February 5, 2020) A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms that organic agriculture provides refuge for biodiversity in an increasingly toxic, chemical-intensive landscape and that organic sites are more profitable than chemical-intensive agriculture despite slightly lower average crop yields (depending on crop type). Considering the impact of landscape context, the value of organic agriculture to biodiversity increased when surrounded by large chemical-intensive fields, but profitability slightly decreased. Small, organic farms near urban centers, for example, can be more profitable than large organic farms in remote areas.

Researchers conducted a global meta-analysis considering the relationship between landscape context and biotic abundance, biotic richness, crop yield, and profitability. They used landscape metrics that “reflected composition (amount of land cover types), compositional heterogeneity (diversity of land cover types), and configurational heterogeneity (spatial arrangement of land cover types).” Datasets from 148 different studies spanned 60 crops on six continents across a range of farming practices and landscape types. Profitability data only related to US crops.

Organic sites had 34% higher biodiversity than chemical-intensive crops. This should come as no surprise, as mono-cultural croplands have become increasingly large and increasingly toxic to organisms such as pollinators and birds in the last few decades. Organic agriculture uses a precautionary approach to toxic substances, thereby allowing biodiversity to thrive. For example, a recent study from Finland illustrated how organic animal farms can, in fact, improve wild bird abundance.

“A landscape with large field sizes might be an indicator of agricultural intensification in general, with many fields with only one crop and heavier pesticide and herbicide use,” said Olivia Smith, PhD, lead author on the study. “That’s a place where there’s not a lot of natural habitat animals can use. An organic farm on that kind of landscape becomes a refuge for species.”

Profits from organic were on average 50% higher than conventional agriculture. Consumers who care about avoiding toxicity, especially families with young children, are driving a surge in organic agriculture. In the U.S., demand far outpaces the supply. As desire for organic food grows, so do the number of organic farms in the U.S. While the number of farms in the U.S. is generally on the decline, the number of organic farms increased 27% between 2012 and 2017, according to data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This study finds that profitability for organic slightly decreased as field size increased in rural areas. “The areas that get the greatest price premium for organic food are those that have small field sizes, which are often located in more urban areas that are more connected to large consumer bases,” said David Crowder, PhD, another author on the paper. “For example, all else being equal, an organic farmer who is in the middle of Iowa may not do nearly as well as an organic farmer near Seattle where there are more consumers willing to pay higher prices for organic food.”

As biodiversity is crashing down across the planet and scientists warn that humans are driving the sixth mass extinction, it is critical to invest in organic farms that provide refuge for beleaguered organisms. What more, it is time to phase out toxic chemicals that make vast swaths of land uninhabitable to pollinators and toxic to migrating birds. Ask your elected representative in Congress to support pollinators by co-sponsoring Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA). If they are already a cosponsor, use the occasion to thank them for their leadership on this critical issue.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: WSU Insider, PNAS

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