We’re already sacrificing our energy sources to “save the planet.” Now the Greens want us to give up food as well. Last summer, a University of Michigan study announced that “organic farming can feed the world.”

“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,” said co-author Ivette Perfecto.

Not even the United Nations believes this fabrication. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization just released a statement saying, “FAO has no reason to believe that organic agriculture can substitute for conventional farming systems in ensuring the world’s food security.” Director-General Jaques Diouf said, “you cannot feed six billion people today and nine billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers.”

The food question is critical, since a peak population of 9 billion humans will apparently demand more than twice as much farm output by 2050. Already, the world’s farmers are using 40 percent of the planet’s land area. Clearing forests to double cropland would crowd out many thousands of wild species.

How can the Michigan and the FAO organic assessments be so far apart? Know that the U-M doesn’t have a school of agriculture. The paper’s lead author, Catherine Badgley, is a geologist.

U-M reported 37 percent higher Argentine corn yields from organic. But that report came from an Argentine farmer named Roberto Peiretti — a friend of mine and a famous no-till farmer. No-till always uses herbicides for weed control. Roberto also uses industrial fertilizers, pesticides and biotech seeds.

In fact, nearly 100 of the studies the U-M authors claimed as “organic” were not.

The U-M response? “We used a broader meaning of organic ... so that we could legitimately include studies that involve practices that are substantially in the direction of strict organic.”

Fertilizer, of course, is the biggest difference between organic and conventional farming. Unfortunately, the world has only one-fourth of the animal manure needed to supply nitrogen for the world’s crops.

Badgley and Perfecto say “... we present data from temperate and tropical agroecosystems showing that leguminous cover crops grown between normal cropping periods could fix more nitrogen than all the synthetic nitrogen currently in use.”

Their own paper, however, warns that green manure crops sacrifice food yields. A long-term California test reported favorable organic wheat yields — but Badgley and Perfecto failed to tell us about a 50 percent reduction in yield for the following corn crop. The corn had to be planted late — so the green manure crop could mature. There are few farms in the world where green manure crops don’t take field time, sunlight and water away from the food/feed crops.

Our answer to “organic can feed the world”? Missouri farmer Kip Cullers, who has gotten 154 bushels per acre of soybeans (U.S. average 41 bu.) and 347 bushels of corn per acre (U.S. average 156 bu.). Cullers achieves this on irrigated plots with lots of fungicides and fertilizer — but that’s instructive about conventional farming’s potential to feed the world and save wildlands from plowdown.


This commentary was submitted by Alex Avery and Dennis Avery. Alex is director of Research and Education at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues, and Dennis is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. They can both be reached at P.O. Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or online at www.cgfi.org.