Paper recommendation: Diversification practices reduce organic to conventional yield gap

I’d like to recommend the following paper: PONISIO, L. C., GONIGLE, L. K., MACE, K. C., PALOMINO, J., DE VALPINE, P. & KREMEN, C. 2014. Diversification practices reduce organic to conventional yield gap. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 282. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1396

Analysis of the sustainability of food system is needed at multiple spatial scales (from households, through landscapes and region up to the global scale) and from multiple perspectives. However, it seems that quantitative, global analyses are particularly effective at creating narratives and setting the tone and scope of the sustainable food system discourse, both within and outside of academia. The notion of the yield gap between conventional and organic farming systems is one such dominant narrative shaping this science. Arguably the land sparing, land sharing and much of the sustainable intensification literature is founded on the assumption of the ‘inefficiency’ of organic farming.

In this important paper Lauren Ponisio and colleagues, conducted a new meta-analysis of 115 studies comparing organic and conventional farming. Their findings suggests that the crop yields of organic agriculture are higher than previously thought. They also found that taking into account methods that optimize the productivity of organic agriculture could minimize the yield gap. They specifically highlighted two agricultural practices – multi-cropping and crop rotation – that would substantially reduce the organic-to-conventional yield gap to 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

The yield gap between conventional and organic farming has become something close to ‘received wisdom’, if this gap is smaller than previously thought, or if, as the authors of this paper suggest, it can be eliminated altogether for certain crops, this could have profound effects on how we conceptualize and achieve sustainable food systems.

Moreover, the authors note that “given that there is such a diversity of management practices used in both organic and conventional farming, a broad-scale comparison of organic and conventional production may not provide the most useful insights for improving management of organic systems. Instead, it might be more productive to investigate explicitly and systematically how specific management practices (e.g. intercrop combinations, crop rotation sequences, composting, biological control, etc.) could be altered in different cropping systems to mitigate yield gaps between organic and conventional production”.

Dave

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