There’s good news for organic food lovers: Organic farming is more profitable than conventional farming, and thus should be sustainable for the years to come, according to a recently published study by Washington State University researchers.
Contrary to public perceptions, organic farmers actually earn more than conventional farmers when they charge premium prices for their crops—about 22 to 35 percent more, the researchers found.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, was the result of surveying 40 years of published literature on conventional and organic farming. In total, the study covered 55 different crops, grown in 14 countries on 5 continents.
Researchers David Crowder and John Reganold compared costs and revenue for conventional versus organic farming systems in dollars per hectare.
Though organic farming usually involves higher labor costs because the farms are not using any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, the farms also save money by not purchasing those resources. Thus, the overall cost of operating an organic farm is about the same as operating a conventional farm, the study found.
The researchers also revealed another unexpected finding: Even when organic farmers had 10 to 18 percent less crop yield than conventional farmers, they only needed to charge a 5 to 7 percent price premium to earn the same profits as the latter.
In reality, organic farmers usually charge 29 to 32 percent more for their crops than conventional farmers—making their businesses highly profitable.
The authors note that they did not calculate the environmental benefits organic farming offers, such as preventing soil erosion or chemicals fertilizer from leaching into groundwater, which are factors many environmentally friendly consumers are willing to pay more for.
Nevertheless, the results should encourage farmers to convert more of their farms into organic, Crowder and Reganold concluded.
“With only 1 percent of the global agricultural land in organic production, our findings suggest that organic agriculture can continue to expand even if premiums decline,” the scientists wrote. “Moreover, with its environmental benefits, organic agriculture can contribute a larger share in sustainably feeding the world.”