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Authored by:
Stephen Gleave
On the magnificent Canadian farms
where organic crops are grown, nature’s
most picturesque shows begin on the
horizon. As the blue sky pales, shadows
lengthen, and a warm orange globe
follows its final arc, dropping heavily into
pools of improvisational color.
On such postcard-perfect days, the
snapshots are flawless. But what if the
lens stayed open for weeks, months, or
decades? That is what researchers at
the Rodale Institute set out to discover in
1981 when they began North America’s
longest-running comparative study of
organic and conventional farming.
Rodale’s Generational Perspective
02
Rather than capturing a moment in
time, Rodale resolved to frame the
panoramic on-the-ground reality in a
generational study of the methods,
philosophies and results of successful
farming operations. As the ongoing
study extends into its fifth decade, the
organic farms are still looking pretty
good, even as conventional farming’s
image appears faded.
Rodale divided the participating
farms into synthetic conventional,
organic manure and organic legume,
which it defines as using a field
rotation consisting of annual grain
crops and cover crops.
Rodale’s key findings include:
“Organic yields match conventional
yields. Organic outperforms
conventional in years of drought.
Organic farming systems build rather
than deplete soil organic matter,
making it a more sustainable system.
Organic farming uses 45% less energy
and is more efficient. Conventional
systems produce 40% more
greenhouse gasses. Organic
farming systems are more profitable
than conventional.”
One of the big differences between
conventional and organic farms is
the richness of the soil. Rodale
discovered: “Soil health in the
organic systems has increased over
time while the conventional systems
remain essentially unchanged. One
measure of soil health is the amount
of carbon contained in the soil.
Carbon performs many crucial
functions such as acting as a
reservoir of plant nutrients, binding
soil particles together, maintaining
soil temperature, providing a food
source for microbes, binding heavy
metals and pesticides, influencing
water holding capacity and
aeration, and more.”
Carbon increased in both of the
organic systems, while soil carbon
on the conventional farms studied
03
has actually decreased over time. In
addition to higher levels of carbon in
fields, organic systems feature these
benefits to the soil, according to
Rodale:
Peak nutrition: “Soil is the
foundation to food production
and growing healthy, nutrient-
rich food to sustain a growing
population.”
Drought protection: “Healthy soil
holds moisture until plants need
it and creates symbiosis with
fungi to extend the root network
deeper into the soil.”
Erosion prevention: “The
‘aggregates’ in healthy soil stick
together and don’t wash or blow
away.”
Disease defense: “Active soil
microbes ward off plant
diseases.”
Flood resistance: “Healthy soil
absorbs more water at a
faster rate, reducing flooding
and runoff.”
Healthy soil also means that plants
are better able to resist weed
growth, without the constant
chemical applications used on
conventional farms. Corn and
soybean crops in the organic
systems were much better able to
fight off weeds, while still yielding
equivalent harvests.
After more than 40 years of
observation, Rodale has an
undeniably clear focus on the big
picture: “Organic methods are
improving the quality of our food,
and improving the health of our soils
and water.”

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Organic Farming in Focus- Rodale’s Generational Perspective.pdf

  • 1. 01 Authored by: Stephen Gleave On the magnificent Canadian farms where organic crops are grown, nature’s most picturesque shows begin on the horizon. As the blue sky pales, shadows lengthen, and a warm orange globe follows its final arc, dropping heavily into pools of improvisational color. On such postcard-perfect days, the snapshots are flawless. But what if the lens stayed open for weeks, months, or decades? That is what researchers at the Rodale Institute set out to discover in 1981 when they began North America’s longest-running comparative study of organic and conventional farming. Rodale’s Generational Perspective
  • 2. 02 Rather than capturing a moment in time, Rodale resolved to frame the panoramic on-the-ground reality in a generational study of the methods, philosophies and results of successful farming operations. As the ongoing study extends into its fifth decade, the organic farms are still looking pretty good, even as conventional farming’s image appears faded. Rodale divided the participating farms into synthetic conventional, organic manure and organic legume, which it defines as using a field rotation consisting of annual grain crops and cover crops. Rodale’s key findings include: “Organic yields match conventional yields. Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought. Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system. Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient. Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gasses. Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.” One of the big differences between conventional and organic farms is the richness of the soil. Rodale discovered: “Soil health in the organic systems has increased over time while the conventional systems remain essentially unchanged. One measure of soil health is the amount of carbon contained in the soil. Carbon performs many crucial functions such as acting as a reservoir of plant nutrients, binding soil particles together, maintaining soil temperature, providing a food source for microbes, binding heavy metals and pesticides, influencing water holding capacity and aeration, and more.” Carbon increased in both of the organic systems, while soil carbon on the conventional farms studied
  • 3. 03 has actually decreased over time. In addition to higher levels of carbon in fields, organic systems feature these benefits to the soil, according to Rodale: Peak nutrition: “Soil is the foundation to food production and growing healthy, nutrient- rich food to sustain a growing population.” Drought protection: “Healthy soil holds moisture until plants need it and creates symbiosis with fungi to extend the root network deeper into the soil.” Erosion prevention: “The ‘aggregates’ in healthy soil stick together and don’t wash or blow away.” Disease defense: “Active soil microbes ward off plant diseases.” Flood resistance: “Healthy soil absorbs more water at a faster rate, reducing flooding and runoff.” Healthy soil also means that plants are better able to resist weed growth, without the constant chemical applications used on conventional farms. Corn and soybean crops in the organic systems were much better able to fight off weeds, while still yielding equivalent harvests. After more than 40 years of observation, Rodale has an undeniably clear focus on the big picture: “Organic methods are improving the quality of our food, and improving the health of our soils and water.”