On Balance – Organic is better

20 Jul

While I was travelling in Brazil and Indonesia meeting members and visiting the farms of the Landless Rural Workers Movement and the Peasant Union of Indonesia, I heard a lot about better crops from organic methods.

In west Sumatra for example, the SPI’s Rustam Efendi told me they were getting rice yields of 7 tonnes per hectare compared with 4 or 5 using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Now their personal experiences have found some academic backing – from Washington. State University A recent study, published in Nature, found that organic techniques actually offer better pest control and larger plants that the agric-chemical competition.

Study author David Crowder and his team surveyed potato farms in Washington state. Their focus wasn’t so much on yields as on another important aspect of both agriculture and environment – the concept of evenness. That’s the relative abundance of different species, including predators and pests, in a farm’s ecosystem. In other words, rather than the number of species present on a farm, it is this “relative abundance,” they noted, that may determine the success of one technique over another. This idea also helps explain why certain commercial pesticides lose their effectiveness.

The WSU researchers found that “although organic and conventional farms did not differ markedly in the richness of (potato) beetle eaters, the evenness of predators differed drastically. Organic fields … had far greater evenness than those where pesticides were applied regularly.”
What happens when evenness increases what Crowder called a “powerful trophic cascade,” resulting in fewer potato-munching beetles and larger potato plants. in layman’s terms, that means 18% lower pest densities and 35% larger plants. And bigger plants generally mean greater potato yields.
Evenness is really another word for balance, even though the struggle to stymie the power of agribusiness and unfair land distribution remains a grossly uneven one. But as Crowder pointed out in nature, “What our study suggests is that organic agriculture is promoting these more balanced natural enemy communities and they may have better, organic pest control.”

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One Response to “On Balance – Organic is better”

  1. luis porter July 20, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    Augusta is able to present in a few words, basic and meaninguful experiences.

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