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Economics and energetics of organic and conventional farming

By D. Pimentel

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Using data from published information on the production of US maize and potatoes employing different technologies and energy inputs, it is shown that the organic production of grains, such as maize, requires less fossil energy than conventional crop production. For some crops, the organic production system may also produce higher crop yields, as demonstrated with the organic maize system. Under organic conditions, however, crop production per unit of labour can be expected to be lower than crop production in conventional systems. Yields of other crops, such as vegetables and fruits, under organic production may be substantially reduced because pests cannot always be effectively controlled by non-chemical means. For instance, the available data on organic potato production suggest a 50% higher loss to insects and diseases than conventional potato production. If the judicious use of agrochemicals is included in the definition of organic, then it would be entirely possible to maintain similarly high yields of fruit and vegetable crops as obtained in conventional systems but with significantly reduced commercial fertilizer and pesticide inputs. With fewer fossil energy and other inputs and employing environmentally sound technologies, agricultural systems can be made more sustainable. At the same time, farmers can maintain high yields and realize greater profits. Combining low inputs with environmentally sound technologies clearly requires that farmers have greater knowledge of the management strategies used in the agroecosystem than farmers who employ the more simplistic heavy-chemical use systems. For this reason those countries that have active plans to reduce pesticides and commercial fertilizers in agriculture are investing heavily in research and supporting extension education.

Date 1993
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 6
Issue 1
Pages 53-60
ISBN/ISSN 0893-4282
Language English
Author Address College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Comparisons
  3. Corn
  4. Crops
  5. Developed countries
  6. Ecological agriculture
  7. Farms
  8. Flowers
  9. Foods
  10. Grasses
  11. Maize
  12. North America
  13. OECD countries
  14. organic culture
  15. organic farming
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. Plants
  18. returns
  19. United States of America
  20. yields
  1. peer-reviewed