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May 6, 2010

Un. of Leeds: Organic Farming Shows Limited Benefits to Wildlife

'Researchers at the University of Leeds's Faculty of Biological Science  issued a comprehensive report on 6 May 2010 comparing organic and conventional farming in the United Kingdom. 

The report concluded:

*  The benefits to wildlife and increases in biodiversity from organic farming are much lower than previously thought -- averaging just over 12 percent more than conventional farming.

*  Organic farms produced less than half of the yield of their conventional counterparts.

According to Professor Tim Benton, "Our results show that to produce the same amount of food in the UK using organic rather than conventional means, we'd need to use twice the amount of land for agriculture. ... " In light of projected population figures, "the lower yield may be a luxury we can't afford, particularly in the more productive areas of the UK."

While organic may not be the best for high yields in concentrated agricultural areas of the U.K., organic may be appropriate in other areas.  As Breton noted, "Organic methods may be a useful part of the land management mix for the less productive parts of the UK, particularly if policies can encourage farmers to coordinate activities to maximise the benefit to wildlife across a larger area.

The Leeds project, funded under the Rural Economy Land Use programme, was targetted at comparing similar size organic and conventional farms.  Previous studies that favored organic farming used samples that had smaller fields with established woodlands and hedges nearby.  Research for this report was undertaken in Central South West England and the North Midlands.  It used samples with comparable variables including covering climate, topography, socio-economic conditions, land use and soil type.  The wildlife studied included birds, insects (including butterflies, bees and hoverflies), earthworms and plants.

For more see: "Organic Farming Shows Limited Benefit to Wildlife, Researchers in UK Find," ScienceDaily, 6 May 2010.

Doreen Gabriel, Steven M. Sait, Jenny A. Hodgson, Ulrich Schmutz, William E. Kunin, Tim G. Benton. "Scale matters: the impact of organic farming on biodiversity at different spatial scales." Ecology Letters, 2010. (DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01481.x)

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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