Environmental Facts about Organics

The Organic Trade Association

Organic agricultural production benefits the environment by using earth-friendly agricultural methods and practices. Here are some facts that show why organic farming is “the way to grow.”

* A nine-year study by USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers at Beltsville, MD, has shown that organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than conventional no-till farming can, according to results published in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Source: “No Shortcuts in Checking Soil Health,” http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jul07/soil0707.htm?pf=1.

* Research at The Rodale Institute has shown that organic practices can remove about 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it in an acre of farmland per year. Thus, Rodale estimates that if all 434 million acres of U.S. cropland were converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of eliminating 217 million cars—nearly 88 percent of all cars in the country today and more than a third of all the automobiles in the world.

* The Long-Term Agricultural Research (LTAR) initiative funded by the Leopold Center in Iowa has shown greater yield, increased profitability, and steadily improved soil quality in organic over conventional rotations in grain-based cropping systems, according to an article in the Summer 2007 Leopold Letter. The initiative, begun in 1998, is being conducted at the Neely-Kinyon Research Farm near Greenfield, IA. The research tests whether organic systems relying on inputs such as composted manure can promote stable yields, soil quality, and plant protection. Results are then compared with a corn-soybean rotation supported by greater levels of inputs such as fossil-based fuels.

Source: Leopold Letter, Summer 2007

* Research conducted jointly by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the agricultural consulting firm AGSTAT published in the March-April 2008 Agronomy Journal showed that organic crop rotations had similar yields to their conventional counterparts. The research compared six cropping systems (three cash grain and three foraged-based crops), which ranged from diverse organic systems to conventional systems. Results of this multi-year study found that forage crops produced using organic methods yielded as much or more dry matter as their conventional counterparts “with quality sufficient to produce as much milk as…conventional systems.” The results of the study also revealed that organic corn, soybeans, and winter wheat produced 90 percent as well as the same crops produced in a conventional manner.

Source: www.newswise.com/institutions/view/?id=1622

* A study published in the March 6 online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that fertilizing apple trees with synthetic chemicals produced more adverse environmental effects than feeding them with organic manure or alfalfa. The findings, published by Stanford University graduate student Sasha B. Kramer and colleagues, showed that the use of organic versus chemical fertilizers helped reduce nitrogen pollution.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, March 6, 2008.

* Two Brazilian research groups have warned that the Amazon Rain Forest may shrink nearly 20 percent by the year 2030 due to farming, road construction, and poor government surveillance of deforestation.

* According to research performed by Tufts University biologists, tadpoles experienced negative physiological changes, including deformed hearts and malfunctioning kidneys and digestive systems, in early phases of their lives when they were exposed to atrazine, an herbicide commonly used to treat golf courses and residential lawns. While causation had not yet been conclusively determined, researchers found that “compared with control populations, the tadpoles that were exposed to atrazine had a dramatically higher incidence of abnormalities.”

Source: http://www.newswise.com/institutions/view/?id=1939.

* Research performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Environmental Sciences division revealed that hypoxia, a fatal condition that affects thousands of fish, shrimp, and shellfish in the Gulf of Mexico each year, is partly the result of fertilizer run-off from agricultural activities in the Mississippi basin. The run-off, along with the temperature differentials created when the warm water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers come into contact with the cold Gulf waters, forms a deadly combination whereby algae grows, dies, decomposes and uses up the oxygen the aforementioned organisms need for survival. To combat this problem, and reduce phosphorus production, which is also seen as a contributing factor in the rise of hypoxia, researchers have proposed increasing the use of environmentally sustainable biofuel, improving nutrient management, and restoring wetlands in the affected areas.

Source: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/539988/.

* An article, “Pesticides reduce symbiotic efficiency of nitrogen-fixing rhizobia and host plants,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the use of pesticides and other contaminants reduces plant yield by one-third as a result of impaired symbiotic nitrogen fixation. “Agrichemicals are blocking the host plant’s phytochemical recruitment signal,” according to study lead author Jennifer E. Fox, a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Oregon.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Pesticides reduce symbiotic efficiency of nitrogen-fixing rhizobia and host plants,” Vol. 104, No. 24. June 12, 2007.

* Research at the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science has show negative effects of the commonly used herbicide atrazine on phytoplankton, the free-floating algae that form the base of the food chain for aquatic animals. Results, published in January 2007 in the journal Pesticide—Biochemistry and Physiology, showed protein levels in phytoplankton decreased as a result of exposure to atrazine.

Source: Pesticide—Biochemistry and Physiology, January 2007

* The United Nations in February 2006 released a report entitled “Challenges to International Waters: Regional Assessments in a Global Perspectives,” resulting from the Global International Waters Assessment project. Noting “pressures from human activities have weakened the ability of aquatic ecosystems to perform essential functions,” the report looked at freshwater shortage, pollution, over-fishing, habitat modification, and global change. Pointing out that oxygen-depleted zones are present not only in enclosed seas such as the Baltic and Black Seas but also in large coastal areas, the report states, “Globally, harmful algal blooms are considerably more widespread and frequent than they were a decade ago, a situation that is expected to further deteriorate by 2020 due to the increased application of agricultural fertilizers, especially in Asia and Africa.” The project also found that reduced stream flow inappropriate irrigation practices and use of groundwater “have increased the salinity of freshwater throughout the world. As a result, agricultural land is becoming too saline to support important crops.” The report recommends an integrated approach linking water management to land and economic management.

Source: www.giwa.net/publications/finalreport/.

* Canadian researchers have found that the toxic pesticide DDT still is having damaging effects on birds despite being banned in the United States and Canada for the past three decades. Andrew Iwaniuk, lead author of a study published in Behavioural Brain Research (online July 7, 2006, “The effects of environmental exposure to DDT on the brain of a songbird: Changes in structures associated with mating and song”) reported that robins’ eggs that had been exposed to the pesticide during development resulted in birds with up to 30 percent less tissue in certain areas of their brains. As a result, they were unable to sing complicated songs, defend their territory or build nests properly. Iwaniuk, who is with the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta, estimated that at least 15 to 20 generations of robins have been adversely affected since the pesticide was first applied.

Source: Behavioral Brain Research, online edition, “The effects of environmental exposure to DDT on the brain of a songbird: Changes in structures associated with mating and song,” July 7, 2006.