The latest results from the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST) contradict the view that organic farming cannot feed the world.
The FST trial, which has been running for twenty-seven years, compares three systems for growing corn and soya, the first two organic and the third conventional:
- one based on rotating feed crops with perennial forage crops for cows, and fertilizing with manure;
- another based on rotating grains with cover crops, with fertility coming from nitrogen-fixing legumes;
- a system reliant on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Rodale’s researchers have been comparing crop yields and taking soil samples on these test plots for twenty-seven years. The latest findings show that the three systems have produced equivalent corn yields over the years, while “soybean yields were the same for the manure and conventional system and only slightly lower for the legume system.”
An even more interesting result of the research was that “In 4 out of 5 years of moderate drought, the organic systems had significantly higher corn yields (31 percent higher) than the conventional system.”
In terms of weed control “Corn and soybean crops in the organic systems tolerated much higher levels of weed competition than their conventional counterparts, while producing equivalent yields.” Yet again the organic plots outperformed conventional in both building organic matter and retaining soil nitrogen. In the past fifteen years of the study, the organic systems have continued building soil carbon, while the conventional system actually lost carbon.