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    Organic Farms Support A Third More Species
    By News Staff | February 4th 2014 06:00 AM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Organic farms support more biodiversity, supporting 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms, according to a new paper. For pollinators such as bees, the number of different species was 50% higher on organic farms, although the authors stress that the study only looked at 'species richness'.

    They looked at  data from 94 previous studies covering 184 farm sites dating back to 1989 and found that this effect has remained stable over time and shows no signs of decreasing.

    "Species richness tells us how many different species there are but does not say anything about the total number of organisms," said Sean Tuck of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences, lead author of the paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology. "There are many ways to study biodiversity and species richness is easy to measure, providing a useful starting point. Broadly speaking, high species richness usually indicates a variety of species with different functions. Taking the example of bees, species richness would tell us how many different species of bee were on each farm but not the total number of bees."

    The researchers, from Oxford University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, re-analyzed the data using satellite imagery to estimate the land use in the landscape surrounding each farm site to see if this had an impact on species richness. Organic farms had a bigger impact on species richness when the land around them was more intensively farmed, particularly when it contained large tracts of arable land. Arable land is defined as land occupied by crops that are sown and harvested in the same agricultural year, such as wheat or barley.

    "We found that the impacts of organic farms on species richness were more pronounced when they were located in intensively-farmed regions," said Dr Lindsay Turnbull of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences, senior author of the study. "This makes sense because the biodiversity benefits of each organic farm will be diluted in clusters of organic farms compared to an organic 'island' providing rich habitats in a sea of pesticide-covered conventional fields. This effect was weakest in pollinators, which may be because pollinators are likely to visit neighbouring farms and could be affected by pesticides there."

    The impact of organic farming on total species richness varied significantly across the data, with the average gain in species richness varying between 26% and 43%. This variation could be down to a number of factors relating to regional variation in farming practices and definitions of 'organic'.

    "Some conventional farms will intensively spray pesticides and fertilizers whereas others will use mixed methods of crop rotation and organic fertilizers with minimal chemical pesticides," said Turnbull, who apparently knowns of magical pesticides that contain no chemicals. "There are also regional differences in farming practices, and the majority of the studies in our data were in developed nations with long histories of farming such as those in Western Europe. There, some wildlife have thrived in extensively managed farmland but are threatened by agricultural intensification. However, in developing nations there is often great pressure on the land to provide enough food for local people, resulting in the conversion of natural habitat to farmland. In such cases the benefits of organic farming are less clear, as this may require more land to achieve the same yield as conventional farming.

    "More research is needed on the impact of organic farming in tropical and subtropical regions. For example, there are no studies on organic bananas or cocoa beans, two of the most popular organic products found in European supermarkets.

    "At present, we simply cannot say whether buying organic bananas or chocolate has any environmental benefit."



    Comments

    And a third less crops?

    Who cares about "species richness" on organic farms? We're supposed to be surprised that there are more Colorado potato beetles, codling moths, and cabbage worms on organic farms?

    I don't want insects on my farm unless they're there with my permission.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Who cares about "species richness" on organic farms? We're supposed to be surprised that there are more Colorado potato beetles, codling moths, and cabbage worms on organic farms?
    Fortunately quite a lot of people with any sense do! So do you believe that farmers have the right to destroy and poison every species of animal, plant and insect on their land regardless of the toxic consequences to the environment and future generations, in their single minded pursuit of producing bulk cash crops? If so then that is how you differ radically from organic farmers. Modern organic farming has been defined very broadly as:-

     “…a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved”

    (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, IFOAM 2009)

    Principles of organic agriculture
    As an international body with a long history of support for organic agriculture, IFOAM has captured the essence of the organic approach in four ‘Principles of organic agriculture’:
    Principle of Health
    Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.
    Principle of Ecology
    Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
    Principle of Fairness
    Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
    Principle of Care
    Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment

    Organic farmers are supposed to keep these principles in mind as a guide to what they are aiming to achieve. Their organic principles appear to be the opposite of those held by farmers like you. Maybe they do currently produce a third less crops but at least they don't think they have the right to destroy all other life forms and the environment for future generations in the farming process. 

    Hopefully organic farming will also one day adopt scientifically proven safe forms of GM science to improve their organic crop production with less fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and help to minimize current high levels of both organic and non-organic farming run-offs and soil erosion and the resulting disastrous eutrophication of our waterways and toxic blue green algae blooms that are potentially poisoning us all.

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Dubious Virtue
    GMO crops apparently have the same level of biodiversity http://esciencenews.com/articles/2014/02/03/first.african.study.biodiver...
    Hank
    Yes, more species is not actually more diversity. And more insects is obviously not a good thing, that is why pesticides were invented.  And obviously leaving out bananas, which are both genetically modified and organically grown en masse, is a big flaw.