Yields, organics versus conventional | See also Yields per bottle.

One criticism of organics is the lower yields it produces compared to conventional farming, so more land is needed for the same output which makes it inefficient. An example of how yields can be pushed is given by Private Eye (‘The Agri Brigade’, Private Eye 15-28 June 2012, p12). It says that since the United Kingdom’s Milk Marketing Board was abolished in 1994, British dairy farmer numbers have dropped from 30,000 to 12,000. Over the same period, those who remain in business have increased their average herd size from 76 to 155 cows, and the average annual milk yield of each cow has risen from 5,500 litres to 7,500 litres.

‘Work in Ethiopia has shown that organic farms are able to withstand the ravages of drought and continue to produce crops when those around them did not. An increase in organic farming practices in areas prone to drought may well alleviate the volume of imported food required in these poorer regions,’ says Bart Arnst.

Organic farmers argue that although they need more land to produce comparative yields their avoidance of intensive monocropping allows wildlife and biodiversity to co-exist with farming, which is not the case with conventional systems. In addition, they say organic farming goes for quality [more nutritious food so less would need to be consumed] rather than quantity, providing food with a higher nutritional value compared to its conventional counterpart.

The Economist (‘A tale of three islands’, October 22nd 2011, p.30) warns that although from 1970-2010 farm productivity rose by three and a half times, there are now ‘signs that farm productivity may levelling out. The growth in agricultural yields seems to be slowing down. There is little new farmland available. Water shortages are chronic and fertilisers are over-used. All these – plus the yield-reductions that may come from climate change, and wastefulness in getting food to markets [we dispose of millions of tonnes of perfectly good food every year] – mean that the big problems are to do with the supply, not demand [politics and distribution, not volume].’