Costs and benefits of organic farming:
Benefits: Some studies suggest that the stability of yields might be higher under organic management.
Costs: Yields under organic management are on average 19 to 25 per cent lower than under conventional management.
Context: Many cereals show higher yield gaps, while forage crops (like hay or alfalfa) have lower yield gaps.
Benefits: On average, organic management results in a 40 to 50 per cent increase in organism abundance in agricultural fields.
Costs: We don’t know whether organic agriculture provides any benefits for biodiversity if lower organic yields (and thus probably more land to produce food) are taken into account.
Context: Plants and bees benefits the most, while other arthropods and birds benefit to a smaller degree.
Climate change mitigation
Benefits: Organic farms typically have lower energy use and lower green-house gas (GHG) emissions than conventional farms.
Costs: When lower organic yields are taken into account, GHG emissions might actually be higher under oirganic management.
Benefits: Organic management leads to improved soil quality, as organic soils tends to have higher organic matter, and likely lower soil erosion rates.
Costs: We do not know what the impact on soil quality is when lower organic yields are taken into account.
Benefits: Fields managed organically have on average lower nitrogen loss and lower pesticide leaching than conventional farms. Organic agriculture also uses more recycled nitrogen and phosphorus, thereby introducing less new nitrogen and phosphorus into our water systems.
Costs: Due to lower organic yields, the nitrogen loss per unit food produced might actually be higher under organic management.
Context: Organic systems that apply large amounts of animal manure have a stronger negative impact on water quality than organic farms that use nitrogen-fixing crops as fertilizers.
Benefits: Organic soils may have higher capacity to hold water.
Costs: Unknown as there are very few studies on the water use of organic farms.
Benefits: Organic agriculture is typically more profitable than conventional agriculture.
Costs: Organic farmers in low-income countries are usually dependent on export markets and exporting agents and therefore lose some of their autonomy.
Context: In regions with high labour costs, organic agriculture is probably less profitable due to its high dependence on agricultural labour.
Farm worker livelihood
Benefits: Organic agriculture reduces the exposure of farm workers to toxic agrochemicals.
Costs: Organic farm workers are likely exploited in similar ways to conventional farm workers.
Context: Agricultural workers in regions with high rural unemployment rates can benefit from the increased employment opportunities in organic agriculture.
Benefits: Organically grown foods have lower pesticide residues and are most likely slightly higher in some micronutrient contents. But it is not clear whether the higher micronutrient contents provide any actual health benefits to consumers.
Context: Consumers in countries with weak pesticide regulations benefit the most from consuming organic food.
Cost: Organic food is more expensive and therefore less accessible to consumers with low income.
Context: Being a member of a community supported agriculture (CSA) initiative can provide cost savings to organic consumers.
Benefits: The yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture could probably be decreased further if we conducted more research on organic agriculture.
Costs: Organic farms currently are highly dependent on nutrient inputs (e.g. animal manure) from conventional farms. It is not clear whether we would have enough organic fertilizers to feed everyone in the world.
Read also Organic is only one ingredient
Source UBC News March 13, 2017