Land area devoted to organic
agriculture has increased steadily over the last 20 years in the United
States, and elsewhere around the world. A primary criticism of organic agriculture is lower yield compared to non-organic systems. Previous analyses documenting the yield deficiency in organic
production have relied mostly on data generated under experimental
conditions, but these studies do not necessarily reflect the full range
of innovation or practical limitations that are part of commercial
agriculture. The analysis we present here offers a new perspective,
based on organic yield data collected from over 10,000 organic farmers representing nearly 800,000 hectares of organic
farmland. We used publicly available data from the United States
Department of Agriculture to estimate yield differences between organic and conventional production methods for the 2014 production year. Similar to previous work, organic crop yields in our analysis were lower than conventional crop yields for most crops. Averaged across all crops, organic yield averaged 80% of conventional yield. However, several crops had no significant difference in yields between organic and conventional production, and organic yields surpassed conventional yields for some hay crops. The organic
to conventional yield ratio varied widely among crops, and in some
cases, among locations within a crop. For soybean (Glycine max) and
potato (Solanum tuberosum), organic
yield was more similar to conventional yield in states where
conventional yield was greatest. The opposite trend was observed for
barley (Hordeum vulgare), wheat (Triticum aestevum), and hay crops, however, suggesting the geographical yield potential has an inconsistent effect on the organic yield gap.
PLoS One. 2016 Nov 8;11(11):e0165851. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165851. eCollection 2016.
Correction: Commercial Crop Yields Reveal Strengths and Weaknesses for Organic Agriculture in the United States.