SOURCE: Canada Organic Trade Association

Canada Organic Trade Association

March 13, 2017 18:03 ET

COTA: Understanding the complexities of organic agriculture is key to improving it

OTTAWA, ON--(Marketwired - March 13, 2017) - On Friday March 10th, the Globe and Mail released an article featuring an interview with Dr. Verena Seufert, the lead author of a new study on organic agriculture from the University of British Columbia. This paper, co-authored by Dr. Navin Ramankutty, sought to 'assess organic agriculture's performance and identify how we can improve it', exploring the nuances of organic agriculture that make it complex to evaluate its environmental, livelihood and health benefits.

Despite acknowledging some of the positive impacts of organic agriculture, COTA believes that the article was biased towards presenting the negative findings in the study. COTA believes that this misrepresents the analysis laid out by Dr. Seufert and Dr. Ramankutty, who repeatedly state that the impacts of organic agriculture are complex and context-dependent, with many benefits and areas for improvement.

The authors found that organic systems tended to have better soil quality, and reduced CO2 emissions. For farmers, the price premiums from organic tend to help their bottom line, while the labour-demand for organic production is good in areas with high unemployment rates.

The authors, however, found that some of these benefits were not as prominent once they controlled for yield. While a common critique, it is important to recognize that the variation in the organic-conventional yield gap can differ widely based on a number of contextual factors, including crop type and management practices. For example, a study from 2014 found that the yield gap dropped to 8 or 9% when organic systems used multi-cropping and crop rotation practices. Articles from Bioscience and the Rodale Institute similarly show lower yield gaps.

In addition to providing a nuanced analysis, Dr. Seufert and Dr. Ramankutty acknowledge that there are significant gaps in data available regarding the impacts of organic production on the environment, livelihoods and health. This lack of research does not discredit organic, but reveals the need for more research into organic agricultural practices and impacts.

Last month, COTA was pleased to have Dr. Seufert present her research to our team in an effort to create a dialogue between academic and policy work in the organic sector. We believe that engaging with research, both the positive and the critical aspects, is important for ensuring that organic agriculture provides the environmental, livelihood and health benefits we intend for.

About the Canada Organic Trade Association

The Canada Organic Trade Association is the membership-based association for the organic sector in Canada: representing growers, processors, certifiers, provincial farmers' associations, importers, exporters, retailers and others throughout the organic value chain. COTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy. COTA brings together the diversity of Canada's organic sector: from farmer and processor to retail, including food products, fibre and textiles, personal care, and emerging sectors such as organic aquaculture.

Contact Information

  • Henry Chen
    Campaigns and Marketing Manager
    hchen@ota.com
    613-482-1717