Organic Agriculture Not Enough to Feed World's Population

New study argues that organic agriculture yields less food than conventional farming

The obvious fact is that organic food and agriculture is better for the environment. But is it better for... humans? A new study argues that organic agriculture produces considerably less crops than conventional farming methods — and that it may not be enough to feed the world's growing, 7 billion-plus population.

The study, published in Nature, analyzed 34 different crop species and found that organic farming methods produce about 25 percent fewer crop yields than conventional farming methods. Yields varied depending on the crop (i.e. fruit, which showed only about a 5 percent difference in crop yield), but the money-makers — cereal crops like wheat and corn, as well as veggies — showed far less yields when farmed organically.

One possible explanation: nitrogen. Conventional farming methods add synethetic fertilizers, complete with nitrogen, to the soil to produce more crops, explains Scientific American. Organic farmers have to know what will make the soil most fertile to produce the most crops, rather than slather on harmful fertilizers and chemicals. And critics argue that large-scale organic farms may cause more harm, taking up more land and driving up prices.

What does it mean for the future of farming to feed the growing population? The researchers say the best solution may be the best of both worlds: Organic farmers can learn how to safely use fertilizers to amp up crop yields, and conventional farmers may learn new tricks to give new environmental protection to their fields. But that may not even be the problem to solve: as Scientific American notes, the world's crop supply could feed the world's population as is. The true problem is food waste; in the U.S., 215 meals are wasted per person each year.