Ecological conscientiousness

“Do the ideals of organic farming and the triumphs of the Green Revolution have to be locked in mortal combat?

In the culture wars, there is a conservative faction that loves nothing better than savaging the organic-farming movement as an elitist affectation that is out of touch with economic reality.”

Andrew Leonard has written a superb article in Salon outlining the caustic nature of the debate about organic vs. chemical farming.

The two poles of the debate. One side envisions a world of small organic farms knit together into sustainable ecological networks. Another pins its hopes on continuing technological advances that must aggressively increase yields in order to cope with an ever-burgeoning global population. Representatives of the two sides rarely have kind words for each other.

Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution,” winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous” because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food.

The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota retorts:

Organic management practices promote soil health, water conservation and can reverse environmental degradation. The emphasis on small-scale family farms has the potential to revitalize rural areas and their economies. Counter to the widely held belief that industrial agriculture is more efficient and productive, small farms produce far more per acre than large farms. …though the yield per acre of a single [monoculture] crop might be lower than a large farm, total production per acre of all the crops and various animal products is much higher than large conventional farms … Conversion to small organic farms therefore would lead to sizeable increases of food production worldwide.

story at Salon, with huge ads and advert trickery, but a concise and readable essay.