Sustainability of Conventional vs Organic Farming

By Jordan McInnis, University of Saskatchewan student

Background

Organic farming is the oldest type of farming. It is farming without the use of any synthetic chemicals or industrial fertilizers. Conventional farming is farming with the use of GMO’s, chemicals, and fertilizers. Conventional farming is the more popular and common practice in today’s modern era of farming, whereas as organic farming only account for about 1.5% of all Canadian farming operations (3,085). In Canada, the low organic farm numbers are due to increased economic, social, and environmental sustainability benefits that fuel the conventional farming industry.

Economic Sustainability

With the continuous population growth the world has changed the perspective of agriculture dramatically. With a projected population of 10 billion people in the year 2056, the world food production will need to increase by more than 70% to meet that demand. It is expected this cannot be done using only organic measures. Conventional farming, currently our best means, to meeting this mark, as without genetically modified crops, chemicals and conventional fertilizers, yields likely can not increase. In canola with crop breeding technology, pesticides and fertilizers yields may increase in some cases more than 54%. This number documents how plant science innovations have increased yield and may continue to increase yields for years to come. If plant science keeps innovating at the rate they are, this will remain true in genetically modified crops. For organic farmers, they will be forced to look at other means of yield increase that may not be near as effective.

Social Sustainability

Conventional farming impacts society more than one may think, it impacts our food and the prices we pay for them. Conventionally grown foods are kept safe and disease free with the use of fungicides, along with the advancements of seed breeding, this results in higher production efficiency for conventional farmers. This production efficiency allows consumers to buy higher quality products, without increasing prices. Organic foods have an average of a 47% price markup on store shelves compared to conventionally grown foods. Ask yourself, is that sustainable?

Environmental Sustainability

When most people think about farming that is good for the environment, they think about organic farming. In my opinion organic farming is the furthest thing from good for the environment, especially when talking about soil and pesticide usage. With conventional farming, the “zero till ” is the method most often chosen to plant the crop. This method can reduce soil erosion by 90%, as well as increase the amount of organic matter left on top of the soil; this allows for a faster breakdown of organic matter and faster rebuilding of the soil.

The use of pesticides also has a positive effect on the environment, as it controls harmful in crop pests, as well as benefits surrounding green space, making it less likely to be infested. Organic operations also use pesticides to control these pests, but the environmental impacts are much different. These chemicals are applied at much higher rates and need to be used three times more often to reach the same control level of synthetic pesticides. This is concerning, as Rotenone has been proven toxic fish and other aquatic life. Along with that, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, as mentioned above, lead to increased yield. This in turn ensures that grassland is able to stay as grassland, and will not need to be tilled up and converted to cropland.

Personal Opinion

On our family farm we have chosen to conventionally farm, our reasons are quite simple, for efficiency and for its time management. The use of conventional chemicals and fertilizers allows us to manage our time better, requiring us to be out in our fields less disrupting the soil compared to organic farming, all while having a higher yielding crop.

I love farming and want to continue to thrive in the industry for as long as possible, conventional farming is our way of doing so. We have invested everything in keeping up with technology and innovation, so why stop now? Especially when the technology and innovation continue to improve and benefit farmers more and more. I want to be able to pass our farm off to future generations to come and to continue the legacy of helping to feed the world. To do so, conventional farming has to be the direction that our farm will continue to take for years to come.

Conclusion

Conventional farming makes sense to maximize productivity and quality food supply. There is no better way than being able to use synthetic agricultural chemicals and fertilizers to boost yield and profits. Without these tools; yields drop, food quality drops, food prices spike, and the land deteriorates at a greater rate. As far as I am concerned if we do not use conventional farming, we are not only hurting ourselves as farmers, but we are hurting the population by not providing them with the most efficient way to provide a steady supply of safe and healthy foods.


 Jordan McInnis

Jordan grew up on a mixed farm just North of Chaplin, SK, where his family farms on 5000 acres and manages 300 head of cattle. Currently Jordan is in his second year of the agribusiness diploma program and will be graduating in the spring. His plan after completing his program is to work full time in the financing, marketing, and/or sales division of the agriculture industry, as well as farm with his father on the side.


 

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