Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program | A program of UC Agriculture & Natural Resources

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

Organic farming research and information, basics of organic farming, self-directed, online training program for organic specialty crop farmers.

organic farming research paper topics

This free, self-directed training program for organic specialty crop farmers 1 in California is organized into six modules. Each module covers principles, key concepts, and on-farm practices.

Course modules: 

  • Now also available in Spanish!  Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo
  • Weed Management
  • Water Management & Irrigation
  • Pest Management (insects and mites)
  • Business Management & Marketing
  • Disease Management

Course structure:

  • Written text, diagrams, photos
  • Videos of on-farm practices and recorded lectures of UC and CSU faculty
  • Links to resources – NRCS, UCCE
  • Learning exercises and worksheets to work through on your own

field

Go to the Basics of Organic Farming course website

A free, self-directed training program for organic farmers

Course developed by:

OFRF_UCSAREP_CAL POLY_LOGOS

  • 1 Although focused on specialty crops, the training teaches many foundational principles that are relevant to all organic farmers.

Organic Systems Researchers at the University of California

Map of organic researchers in California by region.

This section provides links to key resources for organic farmers and ranchers and for other agricultural professionals working in this area.

UC SAREP studies

  • Factors Associated with Deregistration among Organic Farmers in California (2008)
  • Survey of Organic Research and Extension Activities at the University of California (2005)
  • Impact Assessment of Organic Farming Program in Three California Counties- Ventura, Humbolt, Marin (2004)

University of California studies

  • Organic Farming Cost and Return Studies, UC Davis department of Agriculture and Resource Economics *Organic-specific studies are available by searching database by crop.
  • UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines
  • Organic Certification, Farm Planning, Managing, and Marketing
  • Soil Management and Soil Quality for Organic Crops (2000)
  • Soil Fertility Management for Organic Crops - Publication 7249
  • Weed Management for Organic Crops - Publication 7250
  • Insect Pest Management for Organic Crops - Publication 7251
  • Plant Disease Management for Organic Crops - Publication 7252
  • Post-harvest Handling for Organic Crops - Publication 7254
  • Producing Alfalfa Hay Organically
  • Organic Alfalfa Management Guide
  • Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture 2000-2005 (2007)
  • Statistical Review of California's Organic Agriculture 1998-2003 (2005)

Online Resources Related to Organic Farming

Research and Extension Project Databases

  • SAREP Funded Projects Database (searchable by crop, topic, organic relevance)
  • USDA-SARE program projects database
  • USDA NIFA Current Research Information System (CRIS) Database

Sources of Funding for Organic Research and Extension

  • Organic Farming Research Foundation / Scientific Congress on Organic Agriculture Research
  • USDA Organic Research, Education, and Extension Programs
  • Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education 
  • USDA NIFA  Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)

Regulations and Certification

  • USDA National Organic Program
  • California Organic Program for Producers
  • California Organic Program for Processors
  • Accredited Certifying Agents (NOP)
  • California Certified Organic Farmers
  • California Crop Improvement Association
  • Marin Organic Certified Agriculture
  • Monterey County Certified Organic
  • Oregon Tilth
  • Organic Certifiers
  • Organic Crop Improvement Association
  • Quality Assurance International
  • Quality Certification Services
  • Scientific Certification Systems (Nutriclean)

Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE)

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Rule
  • UC SAREP's Strengthening Organic Enforcement: Information for Food Hubs Webinar
  • California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Organic Certification Self-Assessment 
  • CCOF's SOE Video Series  
  • Certification Matrix from Oregon Tilth 
  • Oregon Tilth SOE Video Series

Centers and Programs with Information on Organic Farming

  • University of California, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program
  • University of California, Organic Agriculture Institute
  • University of California, Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
  • University of California, Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project
  • University of California, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program 
  • University of California, The Century Experiment
  • Washington State University, Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center
  • Iowa State University, Organic Agriculture Program, Agronomy and Horticulture
  • Sustainable Agriculture Network (National SARE program)
  • USDA  Alternative Farming Systems Information Center  (AFSIC)
  • Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas
  • Rodale Institute
  • International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements

Production and Marketing Statistics

  • UC Agricultural Issues Center / Organic Agriculture Research Area
  • Economic Research Service (USDA) / Organic Farming and Marketing

Trade Associations

  • Organic Trade Association
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Issue Cover

Article Contents

Introduction, organic farming process, benefits of organic farming, organic agriculture and sustainable development, status of organic farming in india: production, popularity, and economic growth, future prospects of organic farming in india, conclusions, conflict of interest.

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Organic farming in India: a vision towards a healthy nation

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  • Article contents
  • Figures & tables
  • Supplementary Data

Suryatapa Das, Annalakshmi Chatterjee, Tapan Kumar Pal, Organic farming in India: a vision towards a healthy nation, Food Quality and Safety , Volume 4, Issue 2, May 2020, Pages 69–76, https://doi.org/10.1093/fqsafe/fyaa018

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Food quality and safety are the two important factors that have gained ever-increasing attention in general consumers. Conventionally grown foods have immense adverse health effects due to the presence of higher pesticide residue, more nitrate, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotic residue, and also genetically modified organisms. Moreover, conventionally grown foods are less nutritious and contain lesser amounts of protective antioxidants. In the quest for safer food, the demand for organically grown foods has increased during the last decades due to their probable health benefits and food safety concerns. Organic food production is defined as cultivation without the application of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides or genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, and antibiotics. The popularity of organically grown foods is increasing day by day owing to their nutritional and health benefits. Organic farming also protects the environment and has a greater socio-economic impact on a nation. India is a country that is bestowed with indigenous skills and potentiality for growth in organic agriculture. Although India was far behind in the adoption of organic farming due to several reasons, presently it has achieved rapid growth in organic agriculture and now becomes one of the largest organic producers in the world. Therefore, organic farming has a great impact on the health of a nation like India by ensuring sustainable development.

Food quality and safety are two vital factors that have attained constant attention in common people. Growing environmental awareness and several food hazards (e.g. dioxins, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and bacterial contamination) have substantially decreased the consumer’s trust towards food quality in the last decades. Intensive conventional farming can add contamination to the food chain. For these reasons, consumers are quested for safer and better foods that are produced through more ecologically and authentically by local systems. Organically grown food and food products are believed to meet these demands ( Rembialkowska, 2007 ).

In recent years, organic farming as a cultivation process is gaining increasing popularity ( Dangour et al. , 2010 ). Organically grown foods have become one of the best choices for both consumers and farmers. Organically grown foods are part of go green lifestyle. But the question is that what is meant by organic farming? ( Chopra et al. , 2013 ).

The term ‘organic’ was first coined by Northbourne, in 1940, in his book entitled ‘Look to the Land’.

Northbourne stated that ‘the farm itself should have biological completeness; it must be a living entity; it must be a unit which has within itself a balanced organic life’( Nourthbourne, 2003 ). Northbourne also defined organic farming as ‘an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity’. According to Winter and Davis (2006) , ‘it is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony’.

They mentioned that organic produce is not grown with synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, application of genetic modification techniques (such as genetically modified crops), sewage sludge, or chemical fertilizers.

Whereas, conventional farming is the cultivation process where synthetic pesticide and chemical fertilizers are applied to gain higher crop yield and profit. In conventional farming, synthetic pesticides and chemicals are able to eliminate insects, weeds, and pests and growth factors such as synthetic hormones and fertilizers increase growth rate ( Worthington, 2001 ).

As synthetically produced pesticides and chemical fertilizers are utilized in conventional farming, consumption of conventionally grown foods is discouraged, and for these reasons, the popularity of organic farming is increasing gradually.

Organic farming and food processing practices are wide-ranging and necessitate the development of socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable food production system. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has suggested the basic four principles of organic farming, i.e. the principle of health, ecology, fairness, and care ( Figure 1 ). The main principles and practices of organic food production are to inspire and enhance biological cycles in the farming system, keep and enhance deep-rooted soil fertility, reduce all types of pollution, evade the application of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, conserve genetic diversity in food, consider the vast socio-ecological impact of food production, and produce high-quality food in sufficient quantity ( IFOAM, 1998 ).

Principles of organic farming (adapted from IFOAM, 1998).

Principles of organic farming (adapted from IFOAM, 1998 ).

According to the National Organic Programme implemented by USDA Organic Food Production Act (OFPA, 1990), agriculture needs specific prerequisites for both crop cultivation and animal husbandry. To be acceptable as organic, crops should be cultivated in lands without any synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and herbicides for 3 years before harvesting with enough buffer zone to lower contamination from the adjacent farms. Genetically engineered products, sewage sludge, and ionizing radiation are strictly prohibited. Fertility and nutrient content of soil are managed primarily by farming practices, with crop rotation, and using cover crops that are boosted with animal and plant waste manures. Pests, diseases, and weeds are mainly controlled with the adaptation of physical and biological control systems without using herbicides and synthetic pesticides. Organic livestock should be reared devoid of scheduled application of growth hormones or antibiotics and they should be provided with enough access to the outdoor. Preventive health practices such as routine vaccination, vitamins and minerals supplementation are also needed (OFPA, 1990).

Nutritional benefits and health safety

Magnusson et al. (2003) and Brandt and MØlgaord (2001) mentioned that the growing demand for organically farmed fresh products has created an interest in both consumer and producer regarding the nutritional value of organically and conventionally grown foods. According to a study conducted by AFSSA (2003) , organically grown foods, especially leafy vegetables and tubers, have higher dry matter as compared to conventionally grown foods. Woëse et al. (1997) and Bourn and Prescott (2002) also found similar results. Although organic cereals and their products contain lesser protein than conventional cereals, they have higher quality proteins with better amino acid scores. Lysine content in organic wheat has been reported to be 25%–30% more than conventional wheat ( Woëse et al. , 1997 ; Brandt et al. , 2000 ).

Organically grazed cows and sheep contain less fat and more lean meat as compared to conventional counterparts ( Hansson et al. , 2000 ). In a study conducted by Nürnberg et al. (2002) , organically fed cow’s muscle contains fourfold more linolenic acid, which is a recommended cardio-protective ω-3 fatty acid, with accompanying decrease in oleic acid and linoleic acid. Pastushenko et al. (2000) found that meat from an organically grazed cow contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids. The milk produced from the organic farm contains higher polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E ( Lund, 1991 ). Vitamin E and carotenoids are found in a nutritionally desirable amount in organic milk ( Nürnberg et al. , 2002 ). Higher oleic acid has been found in organic virgin olive oil ( Gutierrez et al. , 1999 ). Organic plants contain significantly more magnesium, iron, and phosphorous. They also contain more calcium, sodium, and potassium as major elements and manganese, iodine, chromium, molybdenum, selenium, boron, copper, vanadium, and zinc as trace elements ( Rembialkowska, 2007 ).

According to a review of Lairon (2010) which was based on the French Agency for food safety (AFSSA) report, organic products contain more dry matter, minerals, and antioxidants such as polyphenols and salicylic acid. Organic foods (94%–100%) contain no pesticide residues in comparison to conventionally grown foods.

Fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of phytochemicals such as polyphenols, resveratrol, and pro-vitamin C and carotenoids which are generally secondary metabolites of plants. In a study of Lairon (2010) , organic fruits and vegetables contain 27% more vitamin C than conventional fruits and vegetables. These secondary metabolites have substantial regulatory effects at cellular levels and hence found to be protective against certain diseases such as cancers, chronic inflammations, and other diseases ( Lairon, 2010 ).

According to a Food Marketing Institute (2008) , some organic foods such as corn, strawberries, and marionberries have greater than 30% of cancer-fighting antioxidants. The phenols and polyphenolic antioxidants are in higher level in organic fruits and vegetables. It has been estimated that organic plants contain double the amount of phenolic compounds than conventional ones ( Rembialkowska, 2007 ). Organic wine has been reported to contain a higher level of resveratrol ( Levite et al. , 2000 ).

Rossi et al. (2008) stated that organically grown tomatoes contain more salicylic acid than conventional counterparts. Salicylic acid is a naturally occurring phytochemical having anti-inflammatory and anti-stress effects and prevents hardening of arteries and bowel cancer ( Rembialkowska, 2007 ; Butler et al. , 2008 ).

Total sugar content is more in organic fruits because of which they taste better to consumers. Bread made from organically grown grain was found to have better flavour and also had better crumb elasticity ( BjØrn and Fruekidle, 2003 ). Organically grown fruits and vegetables have been proved to taste better and smell good ( Rembialkowska, 2000 ).

Organic vegetables normally have far less nitrate content than conventional vegetables ( Woëse et al. , 1997 ). Nitrates are used in farming as soil fertilizer but they can be easily transformed into nitrites, a matter of public health concern. Nitrites are highly reactive nitrogen species that are capable of competing with oxygen in the blood to bind with haemoglobin, thus leading to methemoglobinemia. It also binds to the secondary amine to generate nitrosamine which is a potent carcinogen ( Lairon, 2010 ).

As organically grown foods are cultivated without the use of pesticides and sewage sludge, they are less contaminated with pesticide residue and pathogenic organisms such as Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella sp. or Escherichia coli ( Van Renterghem et al. , 1991 ; Lung et al. , 2001 ; Warnick et al. , 2001 ).

Therefore, organic foods ensure better nutritional benefits and health safety.

Environmental impact

Organic farming has a protective role in environmental conservation. The effect of organic and conventional agriculture on the environment has been extensively studied. It is believed that organic farming is less harmful to the environment as it does not allow synthetic pesticides, most of which are potentially harmful to water, soil, and local terrestrial and aquatic wildlife ( Oquist et al. , 2007 ). In addition, organic farms are better than conventional farms at sustaining biodiversity, due to practices of crop rotation. Organic farming improves physico-biological properties of soil consisting of more organic matter, biomass, higher enzyme, better soil stability, enhanced water percolation, holding capacities, lesser water, and wind erosion compared to conventionally farming soil ( Fliessbach & Mäder, 2000 ; Edwards, 2007 ; Fileβbach et al. , 2007 ). Organic farming uses lesser energy and produces less waste per unit area or per unit yield ( Stolze et al. , 2000 ; Hansen et al. , 2001 ). In addition, organically managed soils are of greater quality and water retention capacity, resulting in higher yield in organic farms even during the drought years ( Pimentel et al. , 2005 ).

Socioeconomic impact

Organic cultivation requires a higher level of labour, hence produces more income-generating jobs per farm ( Halberg, 2008 ). According to Winter and Davis (2006), an organic product typically costs 10%–40% more than the similar conventionally crops and it depends on multiple factors both in the input and the output arms. On the input side, factors that enhance the price of organic foods include the high cost of obtaining the organic certification, the high cost of manpower in the field, lack of subsidies on organics in India, unlike chemical inputs. But consumers are willing to pay a high price as there is increasing health awareness. Some organic products also have short supply against high demand with a resultant increase in cost ( Mukherjee et al. , 2018 ).

Biofertilizers and pesticides can be produced locally, so yearly inputs invested by the farmers are also low ( Lobley et al. , 2005 ). As the labours working in organic farms are less likely to be exposed to agricultural chemicals, their occupational health is improved ( Thompson and Kidwell, 1998 ). Organic food has a longer shelf life than conventional foods due to lesser nitrates and greater antioxidants. Nitrates hasten food spoilage, whereas antioxidants help to enhance the shelf life of foods ( Shreck et al. , 2006 ). Organic farming is now an expanding economic sector as a result of the profit incurred by organic produce and thereby leading to a growing inclination towards organic agriculture by the farmers.

The concept of sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals—environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. The concept of sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The very basic approach to organic farming for the sustainable environment includes the following ( Yadav, 2017 ):

Improvement and maintenance of the natural landscape and agro-ecosystem.

Avoidance of overexploitation and pollution of natural resources.

Minimization of the consumption of non-renewable energy resources.

Exploitation synergies that exist in a natural ecosystem.

Maintenance and improve soil health by stimulating activity or soil organic manures and avoid harming them with pesticides.

Optimum economic returns, with a safe, secure, and healthy working environment.

Acknowledgement of the virtues of indigenous know-how and traditional farming system.

Long-term economic viability can only be possible by organic farming and because of its premium price in the market, organic farming is more profitable. The increase in the cost of production by the use of pesticides and fertilizers in conventional farming and its negative impact on farmer’s health affect economic balance in a community and benefits only go to the manufacturer of these pesticides. Continuous degradation of soil fertility by chemical fertilizers leads to production loss and hence increases the cost of production which makes the farming economically unsustainable. Implementation of a strategy encompassing food security, generation of rural employment, poverty alleviation, conservation of the natural resource, adoption of an export-oriented production system, sound infrastructure, active participation of government, and private-public sector will be helpful to make revamp economic sustainability in agriculture ( Soumya, 2015 ).

Social sustainability

It is defined as a process or framework that promotes the wellbeing of members of an organization while supporting the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community. Social sustainability can be improved by enabling rural poor to get benefit from agricultural development, giving respect to indigenous knowledge and practices along with modern technologies, promoting gender equality in labour, full participation of vibrant rural communities to enhance their confidence and mental health, and thus decreasing suicidal rates among the farmers. Organic farming appears to generate 30% more employment in rural areas and labour achieves higher returns per unit of labour input ( Pandey and Singh, 2012 ).

Organic food and farming have continued to grow across the world. Since 1985, the total area of farmland under organic production has been increased steadily over the last three decades ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ). By 2017, there was a total of 69.8 million hectares of organically managed land recorded globally which represents a 20% growth or 11.7 million hectares of land in comparison to the year 2016. This is the largest growth ever recorded in organic farming ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ). The countries with the largest areas of organic agricultural land recorded in the year 2017 are given in Figure 2 . Australia has the largest organic lands with an area of 35.65 million hectares and India acquired the eighth position with a total organic agriculture area of 1.78 million hectares ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ).

Country-wise areas of organic agriculture land, 2017 (Willer and Lernoud, 2019).

Country-wise areas of organic agriculture land, 2017 ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ).

In 2017, it was also reported that day to day the number of organic produces increases considerably all over the world. Asia contributes to the largest percentage (40%) of organic production in the world and India contributes to be largest number of organic producer (835 000) ( Figures 3 and 4 ).

Organic producers by region, 2017 (Willer and Lernoud, 2019).

Organic producers by region, 2017 ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ).

Largest organic producers in the world, 2017 (Willer and Lernoud, 2017).

Largest organic producers in the world, 2017 ( Willer and Lernoud, 2017 ).

The growth of organic farming in India was quite dawdling with only 41 000 hectares of organic land comprising merely 0.03% of the total cultivated area. In India during 2002, the production of organic farming was about 14 000 tonnes of which 85% of it was exported ( Chopra et al. , 2013 ). The most important barrier considered in the progress of organic agriculture in India was the lacunae in the government policies of making a firm decision to promote organic agriculture. Moreover, there were several major drawbacks in the growth of organic farming in India which include lack of awareness, lack of good marketing policies, shortage of biomass, inadequate farming infrastructure, high input cost of farming, inappropriate marketing of organic input, inefficient agricultural policies, lack of financial support, incapability of meeting export demand, lack of quality manure, and low yield ( Figure 5 ; Bhardwaj and Dhiman, 2019 ).

Constraints of organic farming in India in the past (Bhardwaj and Dhiman, 2019).

Constraints of organic farming in India in the past ( Bhardwaj and Dhiman, 2019 ).

Recently, the Government of India has implemented a number of programs and schemes for boosting organic farming in the country. Among these the most important include (1) The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, (2) Organic Value Chain Development in North Eastern Region Scheme, (3) Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, (4) The mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (a. National Horticulture Mission, b. Horticulture Mission for North East and Himalayan states, c. National Bamboo Mission, d. National Horticulture Board, e. Coconut Development Board, d. Central Institute for Horticulture, Nagaland), (5) National Programme for Organic Production, (6) National Project on Organic Farming, and (7) National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture ( Yadav, 2017 ).

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a method of farming where the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero as it reduces costs through eliminating external inputs and using local resources to rejuvenate soils and restore ecosystem health through diverse, multi-layered cropping systems. It requires only 10% of water and 10% electricity less than chemical and organic farming. The micro-organisms of Cow dung (300–500 crores of beneficial micro-organisms per one gram cow dung) decompose the dried biomass on the soil and convert it into ready-to-use nutrients for plants. Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana since 2015–16 and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana are the schemes taken by the Government of India under the ZBNF policy ( Sobhana et al. , 2019 ). According to Kumar (2020) , in the union budget 2020–21, Rs 687.5 crore has been allocated for the organic and natural farming sector which was Rs 461.36 crore in the previous year.

Indian Competence Centre for Organic Agriculture cited that the global market for organically grown foods is USD 26 billion which will be increased to the amount of USD 102 billion by 2020 ( Chopra et al. , 2013 ).

The major states involved in organic agriculture in India are Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh ( Chandrashekar, 2010 ).

India ranked 8th with respect to the land of organic agriculture and 88th in the ratio of organic crops to agricultural land as per Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority and report of Research Institute of Organic Agriculture ( Chopra et al. , 2013 ; Willer and Lernoud, 2017 ). But a significant growth in the organic sector in India has been observed ( Willer and Lernoud, 2017 ) in the last decades.

There have been about a threefold increase from 528 171 ha in 2007–08 to 1.2 million ha of cultivable land in 2014–15. As per the study conducted by Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry in India, the organic food turnover is increasing at about 25% annually and thereby will be expected to reach USD 1.36 billion in 2020 from USD 0.36 billion in 2014 ( Willer and Lernoud, 2017 ).

The consumption and popularity of organic foods are increasing day by day throughout the world. In 2008, more than two-thirds of US consumers purchased organic food, and more than one fourth purchased them weekly. The consumption of organic crops has doubled in the USA since 1997. A consumer prefers organic foods in the concept that organic foods have more nutritional values, have lesser or no additive contaminants, and sustainably grown. The families with younger consumers, in general, prefer organic fruits and vegetables than consumers of any other age group ( Thompson et al. , 1998 ; Loureino et al. , 2001 ; Magnusson et al. , 2003 ). The popularity of organic foods is due to its nutritional and health benefits and positive impact on environmental and socioeconomic status ( Chopra et al. , 2013 ) and by a survey conducted by the UN Environment Programme, organic farming methods give small yields (on average 20% lower) as compared to conventional farming ( Gutierrez et al. , 1999 ). As the yields of organically grown foods are low, the costs of them are higher. The higher prices made a barrier for many consumers to buy organic foods ( Lairon, 2010 ). Organic farming needs far more lands to generate the same amount of organic food produce as conventional farming does, as chemical fertilizers are not used here, which conventionally produces higher yield. Organic agriculture hardly contributes to addressing the issue of global climate change. During the last decades, the consumption of organic foods has been increasing gradually, particularly in western countries ( Meiner-Ploeger, 2005 ).

Organic foods have become one of the rapidly growing food markets with revenue increasing by nearly 20% each year since 1990 ( Winter and Davis, 2006 ). The global organic food market has been reached USD 81.6 billion in 2015 from USD 17.9 billion during the year 2000 ( Figure 6 ) and most of which showed double-digit growth rates ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ).

Worldwide growth in organic food sales (Willer and Lernoud, 2019).

Worldwide growth in organic food sales ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ).

India is an agriculture-based country with 67% of its population and 55% of manpower depending on farming and related activities. Agriculture fulfils the basic needs of India’s fastest-growing population accounted for 30% of total income. Organic farming has been found to be an indigenous practice of India that practised in countless rural and farming communities over the millennium. The arrival of modern techniques and increased burden of population led to a propensity towards conventional farming that involves the use of synthetic fertilizer, chemical pesticides, application of genetic modification techniques, etc.

Even in developing countries like India, the demand for organically grown produce is more as people are more aware now about the safety and quality of food, and the organic process has a massive influence on soil health, which devoid of chemical pesticides. Organic cultivation has an immense prospect of income generation too ( Bhardwaj and Dhiman, 2019 ). The soil in India is bestowed with various types of naturally available organic nutrient resources that aid in organic farming ( Adolph and Butterworth, 2002 ; Reddy, 2010 ; Deshmukh and Babar, 2015 ).

India is a country with a concrete traditional farming system, ingenious farmers, extensive drylands, and nominal use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Moreover, adequate rainfall in north-east hilly regions of the country where few negligible chemicals are employed for a long period of time, come to fruition as naturally organic lands ( Gour, 2016 ).

Indian traditional farmers possess a deep insight based on their knowledge, extensive observation, perseverance and practices for maintaining soil fertility, and pest management which are found effective in strengthening organic production and subsequent economic growth in India. The progress in organic agriculture is quite commendable. Currently, India has become the largest organic producer in the globe ( Willer and Lernoud, 2017 , 2019 ) and ranked eighth having 1.78 million ha of organic agriculture land in the world in 2017 ( Sharma and Goyal, 2000 ; Adolph and Butterworth, 2002 ; Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ).

Various newer technologies have been invented in the field of organic farming such as integration of mycorrhizal fungi and nano-biostimulants (to increase the agricultural productivity in an environmentally friendly manner), mapping cultivation areas more consciously through sensor technology and spatial geodata, 3D printers (to help the country’s smallholder), production from side streams and waste along with main commodities, promotion and improvement of sustainable agriculture through innovation in drip irrigation, precision agriculture, and agro-ecological practices. Another advancement in the development of organic farming is BeeScanning App, through which beekeepers can fight the Varroa destructor parasite mite and also forms a basis for population modelling and breeding programmes ( Nova-Institut GmbH, 2018 ).

Inhana Rational Farming Technology developed on the principle ‘Element Energy Activation’ is a comprehensive organic method for ensuring ecologically and economically sustainable crop production and it is based on ancient Indian philosophy and modern scientific knowledge.

The technology works towards (1) energization of soil system: reactivation of soil-plant-microflora dynamics by restoration of the population and efficiency of the native soil microflora and (2) energization of plant system: restoration of the two defence mechanisms of the plant kingdom that are nutrient use efficiency and superior plant immunity against pest/disease infection ( Barik and Sarkar, 2017 ).

Organic farming yields more nutritious and safe food. The popularity of organic food is growing dramatically as consumer seeks the organic foods that are thought to be healthier and safer. Thus, organic food perhaps ensures food safety from farm to plate. The organic farming process is more eco-friendly than conventional farming. Organic farming keeps soil healthy and maintains environment integrity thereby, promoting the health of consumers. Moreover, the organic produce market is now the fastest growing market all over the world including India. Organic agriculture promotes the health of consumers of a nation, the ecological health of a nation, and the economic growth of a nation by income generation holistically. India, at present, is the world’s largest organic producers ( Willer and Lernoud, 2019 ) and with this vision, we can conclude that encouraging organic farming in India can build a nutritionally, ecologically, and economically healthy nation in near future.

This review work was funded by the University Grants Commission, Government of India.

None declared.

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Edwards , S . ( 2007 ). The impact of compost use on crop yields in Tigray, Ethiopia . In: Proceedings of the International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security . 2–5 May 2007, FAO , Rome [cited on 2013 March 20], pp. 1 – 42 . http://www.ftp.fao.org/paia/organica/ofs/02-Edwards.pdf .

Fileβbach , A. , Oberholzer , H.R. , Gunst , L. , Mäder , P . ( 2007 ). Soil organic matter and biological soil quality indicators after 21 years of organic and conventional farming . Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment , 118 : 273 – 284 .

Fliessbach , A. , Mäder , P . ( 2000 ). Microbial biomass and size—density fractions differ between soils of organic and conventional agricultural system . Soil Biology and Biochemistry , 32 : 757 – 768 .

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Levite , D. , Adrian , M. , Tamm , L. ( 2000 ). Preliminary results of resveratrol in wine of organic and conventional vineyards, In: Proceedings of the 6th International Congress on Organic Viticulture , 25–26 August 2000, Basel, Switzerland , pp. 256 – 257 .

Lobley , M. , Reed , M. , Butler , A. , Courtney , P. , Warren , M . ( 2005 ). Impact of Organic Farming on the Rural Economy in England . Exeter: Centre for Rural Research, Laffrowda House, University of Exeter , Exeter, UK .

Loureino , L.L. , McCluskey , J.J. , Mittelhammer , R.C . ( 2001 ). Preferences for organic, eco-labeled, or regular apples . American Journal of Agricultural Economics , 26 : 404 – 416 .

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Magnusson , M. K. , Arvola , A. , Hursti , U. K. , Aberg , L. , Sjödén , P. O . ( 2003 ). Choice of organic foods is related to perceived consequences for human health and to environmentally friendly behaviour . Appetite , 40 : 109 – 117 .

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Mukherjee , A. , Kapoor , A. , Dutta , S . ( 2018 ). Organic food business in India: a survey of companies . Research in Economics and Management , 3 : 72 . doi: 10.22158/rem.v3n2P72 .

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Thesis Helpers

organic farming research paper topics

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156 Hot Agriculture Research Topics For High Scoring Thesis

agriculture research topics

Are you preparing an agriculture research paper or dissertation on agriculture but stuck trying to pick the right topic? The title is very important because it determines how easy or otherwise the process of writing the thesis will be. However, this is never easy for many students, but you should not give up because we are here to offer some assistance. This post is a comprehensive list of the best 156 topics for agriculture projects for students. We will also outline what every part of a thesis should include. Keep reading and identify an interesting agriculture topic to use for your thesis paper. You can use the topics on agriculture as they are or change them a bit to suit your project preference.

What Is Agriculture?

Also referred to as farming, agriculture is the practice of growing crops and raising livestock. Agriculture extends to processing plants and animal products, their distribution and use. It is an essential part of local and global economies because it helps to feed people and supply raw materials for different industries.

The concept of agriculture is evolving pretty fast, with modern agronomy extending to complex technology. For example, plant breeding, agrochemicals, genetics, and relationship to emerging disasters, such as global warming, are also part of agriculture. For students studying agriculture, the diversity of the subject is a good thing, but it can also make selecting the right research paper, thesis, or dissertation topics a big challenge.

How To Write A Great Thesis: What Should You Include In Each Section?

If you are working on a thesis, it is prudent to start by understanding the main structure. In some cases, your college/ university professor or the department might provide a structure for it, but if it doesn’t, here is an outline:

  • Thesis Topic This is the title of your paper, and it is important to pick something that is interesting. It should also have ample material for research.
  • Introduction This takes the first chapter of a thesis paper, and you should use it to set the stage for the rest of the paper. This is the place to bring out the objective of the study, justification, and research problem. You also have to bring out your thesis statement.
  • Literature Review This is the second chapter of a thesis statement and is used to demonstrate that you have comprehensively looked at what other scholars have done. You have to survey different resources, from books to journals and policy papers, on the topic under consideration.
  • Methodology This chapter requires you to explain the methodology that was used for the study. It is crucial because the reader wants to know how you arrived at the results. You can opt to use qualitative, quantitative, or both methods.
  • Results This chapter presents the results that you got after doing your study. Make sure to use different strategies, such as tables and graphs, to make it easy for readers to understand.
  • Discussion This chapter evaluates the results gathered from the study. It helps the researcher to answer the main questions that he/she outlined in the first chapter. In some cases, the discussion can be merged with the results chapter.
  • Conclusion This is the summary of the research paper. It demonstrates what the thesis contributed to the field of study. It also helps to approve or nullify the thesis adopted at the start of the paper.

Interesting Agriculture Related Topics

This list includes all the interesting topics in agriculture. You can take any topic and get it free:

  • Food safety: Why is it a major policy issue for agriculture on the planet today?
  • European agriculture in the period 1800-1900.
  • What are the main food safety issues in modern agriculture? A case study of Asia.
  • Comparing agri-related problems between Latin America and the United States.
  • A closer look at the freedom in the countryside and impact on agriculture: A case study of Texas, United States.
  • What are the impacts of globalisation on sustainable agriculture on the planet?
  • European colonisation and impact on agriculture in Asia and Africa.
  • A review of the top five agriculture technologies used in Israel to increase production.
  • Water saving strategies and their impacts on agriculture.
  • Homeland security: How is it related to agriculture in the United States?
  • The impact of good agricultural practices on the health of a community.
  • What are the main benefits of biotechnology?
  • The Mayan society resilience: what was the role of agriculture?

Sustainable Agricultural Research Topics For Research

The list of topics for sustainable agriculture essays has been compiled by our editors and writers. This will impress any professor. Start writing now by choosing one of these topics:

  • Cover cropping and its impact on agriculture.
  • Agritourism in modern agriculture.
  • review of the application of agroforestry in Europe.
  • Comparing the impact of traditional agricultural practices on human health.
  • Comparing equity in agriculture: A case study of Asia and Africa.
  • What are the humane methods employed in pest management in Europe?
  • A review of water management methods used in sustainable agriculture.
  • Are the current methods used in agricultural production sufficient to feed the rapidly growing population?
  • A review of crop rotation and its effects in countering pests in farming.
  • Using sustainable agriculture to reduce soil erosion in agricultural fields.
  • Comparing the use of organic and biological pesticides in increasing agricultural productivity.
  • Transforming deserts into agricultural lands: A case study of Israel.
  • The importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems in raising crop productivity.
  • The role of agriculture in countering the problem of climate change.

Unique Agriculture Research Topics For Students

If students want to receive a high grade, they should choose topics with a more complicated nature.This list contains a variety of unique topics that can be used. You can choose from one of these options right now:

  • Why large-scale farming is shifting to organic agriculture.
  • What are the implications of groundwater pollution on agriculture?
  • What are the pros and cons of raising factory farm chickens?
  • Is it possible to optimise food production without using organic fertilisers?
  • A review of the causes of declining agricultural productivity in African fields.
  • The role of small-scale farming in promoting food sufficiency.
  • The best eco-strategies for improving the productivity of land in Asia.
  • Emerging concerns about agricultural production.
  • The importance of insurance in countering crop failure in modern agriculture.
  • Comparing agricultural policies for sustainable agriculture in China and India.
  • Is agricultural technology advancing rapidly enough to feed the rapidly growing population?
  • Reviewing the impact of culture on agricultural production: A case study of rice farming in Bangladesh.

Fun Agricultural Topics For Your Essay

This list has all the agricultural topics you won’t find anywhere else. It contains fun ideas for essay topics on agriculture that professors may find fascinating:

  • Managing farm dams to support modern agriculture: What are the best practices?
  • Native Americans’ history and agriculture.
  • Agricultural methods used in Abu Dhabi.
  • The history of agriculture: A closer look at the American West.
  • What impacts do antibiotics have on farm animals?
  • Should we promote organic food to increase food production?
  • Analysing the impact of fish farming on agriculture: A case study of Japan.
  • Smart farming in Germany: The impact of using drones in crop management.
  • Comparing the farming regulations in California and Texas.
  • Economics of pig farming for country farmers in the United States.
  • Using solar energy in farming to reduce carbon footprint.
  • Analysing the effectiveness of standards used to confine farm animals.

Technology And Agricultural Related Topics

As you can see, technology plays a significant role in agriculture today.You can now write about any of these technology-related topics in agriculture:

  • A review of technology transformation in modern agriculture.
  • Why digital technology is a game changer in agriculture.
  • The impact of automation in modern agriculture.
  • Data analysis and biology application in modern agriculture.
  • Opportunities and challenges in food processing.
  • Should artificial intelligence be made mandatory in all farms?
  • Advanced food processing technologies in agriculture.
  • What is the future of genetic engineering of agricultural crops?
  • Is fertiliser a must-have for success in farming?
  • Agricultural robots offer new hope for enhanced productivity.
  • Gene editing in agriculture: Is it a benefit or harmful?
  • Identify and trace the history of a specific technology and its application in agriculture today.
  • What transformations were prompted by COVID-19 in the agricultural sector?
  • Reviewing the best practices for pest management in agriculture.
  • Analysing the impacts of different standards and policies for pest management in two countries of your choice on the globe.

Easy Agriculture Research Paper Topics

You may not want to spend too much time writing the paper. You have other things to accomplish. Look at this list of topics that are easy to write about in agriculture:

  • Agricultural modernization and its impacts in third world countries.
  • The role of human development in agriculture today.
  • The use of foreign aid and its impacts on agriculture in Mozambique.
  • The effect of hydroponics in agriculture.
  • Comparing agriculture in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Is it possible to engage in farming without water?
  • Livestock owners should use farming methods that will not destroy forests.
  • Subsistence farming versus commercial farming.
  • Comparing the pros and cons of sustainable and organic agriculture.
  • Is intensive farming the same as sustainable agriculture?
  • A review of the leading agricultural practices in Latin America.
  • Mechanisation of agriculture in Eastern Europe: A case study of Ukraine.
  • Challenges facing livestock farming in Australia.
  • Looking ahead: What is the future of livestock production for protein supply?

Emerging Agriculture Essay Topics

Emerging agriculture is an important part of modern life. Why not write an essay or research paper about one of these emerging agriculture topics?

  • Does agriculture help in addressing inequality in society?
  • Agricultural electric tractors: Is this a good idea?
  • What ways can be employed to help Africa improve its agricultural productivity?
  • Is education related to productivity in small-scale farming?
  • Genome editing in agriculture: Discuss the pros and cons.
  • Is group affiliation important in raising productivity in Centre Europe? A case study of Ukraine.
  • The use of Agri-Nutrition programs to change gender norms.
  • Mega-Farms: Are they the future of agriculture?
  • Changes in agriculture in the next ten years: What should we anticipate?
  • A review of the application of DNA fingerprinting in agriculture.
  • Global market of agricultural products: Are non-exporters locked out of foreign markets for low productivity?
  • Are production technologies related to agri-environmental programs more eco-efficient?
  • Can agriculture support greenhouse mitigation?

Controversial Agricultural Project For Students

Our team of experts has searched for the most controversial topics in agriculture to write a thesis on. These topics are all original, so you’re already on your way towards getting bonus points from professors. However, the process of writing is sometimes not as easy as it seems, so dissertation writers for hire will help you to solve all the problems.

  • Comparing the mechanisms of US and China agricultural markets: Which is better?
  • Should we ban GMO in agriculture?
  • Is vivisection a good application or a necessary evil?
  • Agriculture is the backbone of modern Egypt.
  • Should the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture be considered biological terror?
  • How the health of our planet impacts the food supply networks.
  • People should buy food that is only produced using sustainable methods.
  • What are the benefits of using subsidies in agriculture? A case study of the United States.
  • The agrarian protests: What were the main causes and impacts?
  • What impact would a policy requiring 2/3 of a country to invest in agriculture have?
  • Analysing the changes in agriculture over time: Why is feeding the world population today a challenge?

Persuasive Agriculture Project Topics

If you have difficulty writing a persuasive agricultural project and don’t know where to start, we can help. Here are some topics that will convince you to do a persuasive project on agriculture:

  • What is the extent of the problem of soil degradation in the US?
  • Comparing the rates of soil degradation in the United States and Africa.
  • Employment in the agricultural sector: Can it be a major employer as the population grows?
  • The process of genetic improvement for seeds: A case study of agriculture in Germany.
  • The importance of potatoes in people’s diet today.
  • Comparing sweet potato production in the US to China.
  • What is the impact of corn production for ethanol production on food supply chains?
  • A review of sustainable grazing methods used in the United States.
  • Does urban proximity help improve efficiency in agriculture?
  • Does agriculture create economic spillovers for local economies?
  • Analysing the use of sprinkle drones in agriculture.
  • The impact of e-commerce development on agriculture.
  • Reviewing the agricultural policy in Italy.
  • Climate change: What does it mean for agriculture in developed nations?

Advanced Agriculture Project Topics

A more difficult topic can help you impress your professor. It can earn you bonus points. Check out the latest list of advanced agricultural project topics:

  • Analysing agricultural exposure to toxic metals: The case study of arsenic.
  • Identifying the main areas for reforms in agriculture in the United States.
  • Are developed countries obligated to help starving countries with food?
  • World trade adjustments to emerging agricultural dynamics and climate change.
  • Weather tracking and impacts on agriculture.
  • Pesticides ban by EU and its impacts on agriculture in Asia and Africa.
  • Traditional farming methods used to feed communities in winter: A case study of Mongolia.
  • Comparing the agricultural policy of the EU to that of China.
  • China grew faster after shifting from an agro to an industrial-based economy: Should more countries move away from agriculture to grow?
  • What methods can be used to make agriculture more profitable in Africa?
  • A comprehensive comparison of migratory and non-migratory crops.
  • What are the impacts of mechanical weeding on soil structure and fertility?
  • A review of the best strategies for restoring lost soil fertility in agricultural farmlands: A case study of Germany.

Engaging Agriculture Related Research Topics

When it comes to agriculture’s importance, there is so much to discuss. These engaging topics can help you get started in your research on agriculture:

  • Agronomy versus horticultural crops: What are the main differences?
  • Analysing the impact of climate change on the food supply networks.
  • Meat processing laws in Germany.
  • Plant parasites and their impacts in agri-production: A case study of India.
  • Milk processing laws in Brazil.
  • What is the extent of post-harvest losses on farming profits?
  • Agri-supply chains and local food production: What is the relationship?
  • Can insects help improve agriculture instead of harming it?
  • The application of terraculture in agriculture: What are the main benefits?
  • Vertical indoor farms.
  • Should we be worried about the declining population of bees?
  • Is organic food better than standard food?
  • What are the benefits of taking fresh fruits and veggies?
  • The impacts of over-farming on sustainability and soil quality.

Persuasive Research Topics in Agriculture

Do you need to write a paper on agriculture? Perfect! Here are the absolute best persuasive research topics in agriculture:

  • Buying coffee produced by poor farmers to support them.
  • The latest advances in drip irrigation application.
  • GMO corn in North America.
  • Global economic crises and impact on agriculture.
  • Analysis of controversies on the use of chemical fertilisers.
  • What challenges are facing modern agriculture in France?
  • What are the negative impacts of cattle farms?
  • A closer look at the economics behind sheep farming in New Zealand.
  • The changing price of energy: How important is it for the local farms in the UK?
  • A review of the changing demand for quality food in Europe.
  • Wages for people working in agriculture.

Work With Experts To Get High Quality Thesis Paper

Once you pick the preferred topic of research, it is time to get down and start working on your thesis paper. If writing the paper is a challenge, do not hesitate to seek thesis help from our experts. We work with ENL writers who are educated in top universities. Therefore, you can trust them to carry out comprehensive research on your paper and deliver quality work to impress your supervisor. Students who come to us for assistance give a high rating to our writers after scoring top grades or emerging top in class. Our trustworthy experts can also help with other school assignments, thesis editing, and proofreading. We have simplified the process of placing orders so that every student can get assistance quickly and affordably. You only need to navigate to the ordering page to buy a custom thesis paper online.

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Environmental impacts of organic agriculture and the controversial scientific debates

  • Original research paper
  • Open access
  • Published: 10 February 2022
  • Volume 12 , pages 1–15, ( 2022 )

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organic farming research paper topics

  • Emil Debuschewitz 1 &
  • Jürn Sanders 1  

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The environmental impacts of organic agriculture have been controversially discussed in the scientific community for many years. There are still conflicting views on how far organic agriculture can help address environmental and resource challenges, and whether its promotion is an appropriate policy approach to solving existing socioecological problems. So far, no clear perspective on these questions has been established. How can this be explained? And is there a “lock-in” of the scientific discourse? The aim of this paper is to retrace the scientific discourse on this topic and to derive possible explanations as to why environmental impacts of organic agriculture continue to be assessed differently. To this end, a qualitative content analysis was conducted with a sample of n = 93 scientific publications. In addition, expert interviews were conducted to verify the results of the literature analysis. Two main lines of discussion were identified: first, the extent to which aspects of food security should be included in the assessment of environmental aspects (thematic frame); second, the extent to which net environmental impacts or possible leakage effects because of lower yield levels should be considered (spatial frame). It is concluded that the polarizing debate mainly results from the often-binary initial question (is organic agriculture superior to conventional agriculture?). Further, aspects that have been insufficiently illuminated so far, such as the choice of reference units or normative basic assumptions in scientific sustainability assessments, should be given greater consideration in the discourse.

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Introduction

Organic agriculture (OA) is considered a particularly environmentally friendly way of farming based on the interconnected principles of health, ecology, fairness, and care (IFOAM 2021 ). Especially in the European Union (EU), policymakers have therefore advocated an expansion of the area under organic management. In Germany, for example, a growth target was set in 2001: the aim is to achieve a 20% share of organically managed land (BMEL 2019 ). More recently, the EU Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy has called for at least 25% of agricultural land in the EU to be farmed organically by 2030, in view of the expected positive environmental and resource-related effects (European Commission 2020 ).

The political support of OA and its advantages in environmental protection have been the subject of intense political and scientific discussions for more than twenty years (Sanders 2016 ). Repeatedly, several scholars have provided empirical evidence for the relative advantages of OA (cf. Reganold and Wachter 2016 ; Stolze 2000 ), whereas others have produced contrary findings and concluded the opposite (cf. Bergström and Kirchmann 2016 ; Trewavas 2001 ).

Thus, there is reason to assume that scientific debates on the relative merits of OA have taken place in an overall fruitless way since the beginning of the political support debates. This is especially true for the question of what role OA is to play nationally and internationally in addressing the critical socioecological problems facing agriculture. Footnote 1 In this context, there is an urgent need to solve such environmental issues related to critically exceeded planetary boundaries, as proposed by Steffen et al. ( 2015 ), that are primarily impacted by agriculture, e.g., biosphere integrity and biogeochemical flows. This highlights the importance of science being able to provide clear and well-justified conclusions about environmental impacts of alternative agricultural systems. The question thus arises as to whether there is a “lock-in” of scientific debate.

Against this background, this paper does not provide additional evidence whether or in which areas OA provides greater environmental performance than conventional agriculture (CA). Rather, it attempts to analyze comprehensively the controversial assessments of OA in scientific debates in terms of the underlying argumentation. Further, it explores the question of why such disparate views still exist in the scientific community. Specifically, the aim of this paper is to retrace the scientific discourse on this topic in order to derive possible explanations why environmental impacts of OA continue to be assessed controversially in the scientific community.

Material and methods

Systematic literature search.

The analyzed material is scientific publications that were obtained through a systematic literature search. The literature search was based on the four-phase flow diagram of the PRISMA Statement Footnote 2 (cf. Moher et al. 2009 ) and is illustrated in Fig.  1 . It consisted of a search string-based query Footnote 3 of the online database Scopus (n = 22 cases) and a complementary web-based search via Google and Google Scholar, mainly using the snowball system (n = 71 cases).

figure 1

Flow diagram of the systematic literature search combined of a string-based Scopus search and a web-based search (modified according to Moher et al. ( 2009 ))

The search string query was conducted in English as it could be assumed that the publications relevant to the discourse to be analyzed are mainly written in English. The search string was not limited to specific environmental dimensions as the interest in knowledge was focused on argumentations that move across different performance areas. Further, it was assumed that the term “yield” is a strong indicator of a publication’s relevance to the subject matter, as studies that do not consider yield in any form are unlikely to comprehensively address the question of how to evaluate environmental performance and impacts of any agricultural system.

The complementary search was intended to include relevant literature not captured by the Scopus inquiry, as well as literature that is not subject to peer-reviewed publication but contributes to the debates under investigation. In total, the dataset consisted of n = 93 scientific publications. The full record of the analyzed cases is provided in Online Resource 1 .

Qualitative content analysis

To obtain the desired information from the retrieved cases, a qualitative content analysis was carried out. The content structuring qualitative content analysis applied here is based on Mayring ( 2015 ) and Kuckartz ( 2018 ). The analysis was conducted using the data analysis software MAXQDA 2020 (VERBI Software 2019 ). To obtain the content-related information from the analysis units, i.e., scientific publications, these were coded, which is equivalent to categorizing text segments (Kuckartz 2018 ). The codebook (including the coding frame with all main and sub-codes that were used and the code descriptions with application examples) is provided in Online Resource 2 .

Due to the explorative and descriptive orientation of the research aim, a mixed form of a-priori code creation and code creation directly on the material, i.e., deductive-inductive coding, was applied (Kuckartz 2018 ). The starting point for code creation was a coding frame consisting of relatively few codes, which were derived from the first examination of texts during the process of literature search as described above. Central publications in this examination were Gomiero et al. ( 2011 ), Meemken and Qaim ( 2018 ), and Sanders and Heß ( 2019 ).

Expert interviews

In addition to the scientific publications, qualitative data were obtained in four expert interviews. The interviews specifically aimed at exploring i) possible explanations for the course of the scientific debates and ii) lessons to be learned for the ongoing discourse.

The interviewees were considered suitable experts based on their academic careers and scientific research that has contributed and is closely related to the debates under investigation. All interviewees hold professorships at various international universities, including the research areas of organic agriculture, sustainable land use and food systems, ecology, agricultural economics and development, and sustainability science.

The interviews were conducted via video calls and followed a semi-structured guideline to meet the explorative research objective. All the interviews took place after the literature analysis had been completed. The transcripts of the interviews (provided in German language in Online Resource 3 , including the transcription system in Table S1) were then qualitatively analyzed.

The environmental impacts of OA were first comprehensively described by Stolze ( 2000 ). Based on the literature available at the time, the authors concluded that OA—like any type of agriculture—entails environmental impacts, but that these impacts are less harmful than in CA. This finding was subsequently affirmed by further literature (cf. Gomiero et al. 2011 ; Reganold and Wachter 2016 ; Sanders and Heß 2019). However, the conclusion that the environmental performance of OA is superior to that of CA, or simply put, “OA is more environmentally friendly than CA,” is not shared by all scientific studies.

Over the past twenty years or so, two key counterarguments have been raised claiming that OA is not superior to CA regarding environmental impacts. As discussed further in detail below and illustrated schematically in Fig.  2 , numerous studies argue that impacts on food security should be considered in the face of productivity issues when assessing environmental impacts. Second, it is argued that the assessment should also consider potential leakage effects given different land use (LU) efficiencies, i.e., it should not only consider the spatially immediate impacts of organic systems. Based on these intertwined counterarguments, two lines of scientific discussion have emerged in which the two counterarguments are reinforced or relativized, respectively. Thus, the main ambiguity is how broadly to draw the thematic (chapter Importance of food security in assessments of environmental impacts ) and spatial (chapter Importance of leakage effects in assessments of environmental impacts ) frames in the assessments.

figure 2

Two identified lines of discussion that trace back to two key counterarguments against environmental benefits of organic agriculture (OA). The two lines illustrate the ambiguity regarding the thematic and spatial boundary in the debates. Each box depicts a set of subsumed arguments. A change of color between two boxes indicates the relativization of the preceding one. Mixed-colored boxes indicate that both relativizing and affirming arguments are subsumed in the box. The terms in bold type are highlighted in italics in the text (own illustration)

Importance of food security in assessments of environmental impacts

It becomes clear that the first line of argumentation (Fig.  2 ) can be traced back to the fundamental critique of OA regarding lower productivity. This is commonly considered problematic with reference to increasing population growth and the overarching goal of food security (cf. Goklany 2002 ; Kirchmann et al. 2007 ). Consequently, a relevant component of these debates is the yield gap between organic and conventional systems, which are mainly discussed in light of a few key meta-studies (cf. Ponisio et al. 2015 ; Ponti et al. 2012 ; Seufert et al. 2012 ). In addition, the concept of yield stability, i.e., the temporal variability and reliability of production, has been argued to be important when comparing organic and conventional agriculture regarding food security (cf. Knapp and van der Heijden 2018 ).

In the context of yield gaps, the empirical evidence to date clearly points to lower average yields in OA (cf. Meemken and Qaim 2018 ). However, beyond averages, it has also been noted that the available data are highly context-dependent , i.e., there is considerable variability depending on system and site characteristics; it is also argued that biases in study selection (e.g., by geographic location) should be taken into account in meta-analyses, as well as the multitude of yield-limiting factors that have been insufficiently understood to date (cf. Lorenz and Lal 2016 ; Seufert 2019 ). In general, it is increasingly recognized that yield is only one factor among a multitude of complex economic and ecological interrelationships that need to be included in the sustainability assessment of different farming systems (cf. Ponisio and Ehrlich 2016 ; Seufert and Ramankutty 2017 ). This argument has been put forward by researchers calling for a more holistic agri-food systems perspective beyond productivity aspects (cf. IPES-Food 2016 ) by greater inclusion of ecosystem services (cf. van der Werf et al. 2020 ) when it comes to assessing the relative merits of alternative farming systems. In particular, it is argued that a primary focus on yields and “eco-efficiency” assessments does not sufficiently address ecological or nutritional issues, as, for example, rebound effects may occur in complex LU systems (cf. Ponisio and Kremen 2016 ) or efforts to reduce crop and food waste need to be taken into account regarding the goal of food security (cf. Müller et al. 2016 ).

Accordingly, some researchers emphasize the benefits of OA for sustainable food systems and argue that yield gaps could be closed in the long term if, for example, agroecological conditions and changes in dietary behavior were promoted or possible synergistic effects of large contiguous areas of OA were taken more into consideration (cf. Fess and Benedito 2018 ; Müller et al. 2017 ; Ponisio et al. 2015 ). Others disagree, sometimes vehemently, invoking nutrient limitations in organic systems or the erroneous equation of yield ratios between individual crops with system productivity in some comparative studies, as additional land for nitrogen fixation would be needed in OA (cf. Connor 2018 ; Kirchmann et al. 2016 ; Leifeld 2016 ).

Consequently, the existing limitations of empirical evidence on yield gaps not only influence discussions on food security, but also significantly influence discussions on the assessment of environmental impacts of OA. Although a “conventional wisdom” in scientific discourse has already been described by Holt-Giménez et al. ( 2012 ), which advocates a combination of organic and conventional methods with the aim of increasing productivity in a sustainable manner (cf. Meemken and Qaim 2018 ), this has not led to a reduction in controversial debates. For example, Tal ( 2018 : 9) notes that the binary organic vs. conventional debates foster “a tendency on both sides of the […] divide to caricaturize the other and cherry pick extreme examples of environmentally problematic practices.” Seufert and Ramankutty ( 2017 : 1) also roughly divide the discourse into those researchers promoting OA as a solution to sustainable food security challenges and others who “condemn it as a backward and romanticized version of agriculture that would lead to hunger and environmental devastation.”

Accordingly, along the debates on the role of OA in global food security, arguments have been identified that address the policy relevance of certain scientific issues. In this context, it is striking that the question of whether OA can “ feed the world ” is a type of framing (cf. IPES-Food 2016 ) that has persisted throughout the period in which the analyzed literature was published (cf. Goklany 2002 ; Meemken and Qaim 2018 ; Müller et al. 2017 ; Ponti et al. 2012 ). Again, however, there is disagreement regarding the appropriate focus of research questions. Tittonell ( 2013 ), for example, considers the “feed the world” framing as oversimplified and thus not very policy-relevant, whereas others argue that this very question is crucial (Niggli 2015 ) or an interesting thought experiment (Meemken and Qaim 2018 ).

In addition, there are previously marginalized narratives that argue from the political economy perspective of unequal global power relations, thus criticizing Western industrialized development narratives, and highlighting the importance of food sovereignty (cf. Scoones et al. 2019 ). Overall, it becomes clear that the discussions about the role of OA in the context of food security are strongly influenced by normative assumptions on socioeconomic and agricultural development and are correspondingly divergent.

Importance of leakage effects in assessments of environmental impacts

Regarding environmental impacts, which are condensed in a second line of discussion (Fig.  2 ), the lower yield performance of OA and the resulting lower land use (LU) efficiency emerge as the main points of criticism, analogous to the first line of discussion. Here, the aspects regarding yield gaps, as described above, are reflected in the use of the concept of leakage effects as a prominent reasoning.

Overall, the discussions on environmental merits of OA predominantly appear as tradeoff analyses. Regarding biodiversity effects, for example, the general argumentation dominates that local biodiversity benefits of OA are offset or even turn into disadvantages due to higher land requirements when expanded (cf. Tuck et al. 2014 ). In this context, the logic of leakage effects assumes that an expansion of generally more extensive OA may lead to LU intensification elsewhere, resulting in net negative environmental impacts, e.g., higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through LU change or biodiversity loss through habitat conversion (cf. Bergström and Kirchmann 2016 ; Gabriel et al. 2013 ; Kirchmann et al. 2007 ; Kirchmann 2019 ; Leifeld 2016 ; Searchinger et al. 2018 ).

By the same token, OA is criticized in terms of increased nutrient leaching, assuming that large-scale conversion would lead to arable land expansion to meet the unchanged (or increasing) demand for agricultural products due to yield gaps (cf. Bergström and Kirchmann 2016 ; Tuomisto et al. 2012 ). Although there are studies that find lower eutrophication potential in OA (cf. Schader et al. 2012 ) and more efficient nutrient use on a given area (cf. Mäder et al. 2002 ; Niggli 2015 ) due to system boundaries, some researchers also point out that a lack of data , especially on water conservation, does not allow robust general conclusions (cf. Kusche et al. 2019 ; Seufert and Ramankutty 2017 ). Further, regarding biodiversity and GHG emissions, estimating the effects of large-scale adoption of OA is argued to be ambiguous because there exists uncertainty about the relationship between yield-levels and land in production or conversion of natural habitat (cf. Ponisio and Kremen 2016 ; Reganold and Wachter 2016 ; van der Werf et al. 2020 ).

In addition, there are arguments indicating that so far unmeasured and potentially positive effects of OA are not covered by comparative studies conducted to date (cf. Clark and Tilman 2017 ; Tuck et al. 2014 ); e.g., positive biodiversity effects from large contiguous areas of OA (cf. Meng et al. 2017 ; Stein-Bachinger et al. 2019 ). Hence, some authors argue that expanding OA might be the most cost-effective strategy from the perspective of integrated policy measures that address improvements in multiple environmental dimensions simultaneously (cf. Jespersen et al. 2017 ).

The role of reference units in environmental impact assessments

What further becomes clear from the above is that study results and their conclusions regarding the benefits of OA significantly depend on the choice of reference unit . That is, whether environmental impacts are expressed per unit of farmed area or per unit of produced output. The central role of the reference units in environmental impact assessments becomes particularly clear regarding nutrient leaching and GHG emissions (cf. Halberg et al. 2005 ; Schader et al. 2012 ).

As Meemken and Qaim ( 2018 ) summarize, most evidence suggests that OA has lower environmental impacts in terms of GHG emissions when expressed per unit area, and higher impacts per unit output, respectively. However, as Sanders and Heß (2019) point out, in many studies the choice of the appropriate reference unit—despite its centrality to the results and conclusions—is inadequately justified. The latter authors argue that the question of the appropriate reference unit from a societal perspective Footnote 4 needs further scrutiny by considering i) the spatial scope of a solution to reduce environmental impacts (is the public environmental good to be provided on a local or global scale?), ii) the regional characteristics of environmental impacts (how scarce are specific public environmental goods in a region?), and iii) the risk and extent of leakage effects (does the provision of a public environmental good in one region result in negative environmental impacts in another region?).

Regarding the (rarely explicit) backing argumentation for the use of different reference units, c ontradictory justifications could be identified in the present study. Some scholars argue that the primary use of the output-reference is misleading because absolute, rather than relative (to the yield), environmental impacts are decisive; thus, the primary focus on the output-reference would not do justice to the complexity of goods and services provided as well as to the systems approach of OA Footnote 5 (cf. Müller et al. 2016 ; Niggli 2015 ; Ponisio and Kremen 2016 ).

On the other hand, it is argued that expressing environmental impacts per unit area is misleading if it does not take into account system productivity (which is usually lower in OA) and LU efficiency; thus, in the context of a growing world population and global environmental impacts, yield units would be the primarily relevant reference (cf. Kirchmann 2019 ; Meemken and Qaim 2018 ; Tuomisto et al. 2012 ). It is noteworthy in this context that already about twenty years ago, Geier ( 2000 ) stated that there is no consensus on the use of the functional unit within the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology Footnote 6 and thus the main problem is the question of when it is reasonable to relate environmental impacts to the output and when to the area. The disparate views on the appropriate choice of reference units that since have been brought forward illustrate the difficulty to debate environmental impacts within consistent thematic and spatial boundaries.

The partly contrary argumentation is aggravated by a weak empirical evidence base on leakage effects that could result from an expansion of OA, especially on a global scale. For example, Seufert and Ramankutty ( 2017 ) note that potential impacts of a large-scale shift to OA are highly uncertain due to, among other issues, existing knowledge gaps on system-level feedback effects that ultimately influence future food production and demand. Other studies emphasize that regarding leakage effects, analogous to the implications for food security, it is crucial in an assessment of OA to also include dietary habits and the origin of demanded foods (cf. Haller et al. 2020 ; Müller et al. 2017 ). Accordingly, the German Advisory Council on Global Change has recently pointed out that the argument of leakage effects cannot be the sole focus when aiming to safeguard globally important ecosystems, but the various dimensions of leakage must be embedded in cross-sectoral measures that go far beyond issues of domestic LU efficiency (WBGU 2020 ).

Synopsis of the expert interviews

In addition to the qualitative content analysis of the literature, four expert interviews were conducted and qualitatively analyzed. Across all interviews, it became clear that the nexus of science, policy, and values Footnote 7 that has so far led to research agendas and political initiatives to promote OA (or the general transformation toward sustainable agricultural systems) needs to be adapted to the increasingly complex problem situation described in the Introduction. At the same time, the barriers that might impede such adaptation were addressed. In this context, the interviews also repeatedly referred to the formation of entrenched positions (sometimes referred to as “paradigms” or “camps”) through established academic networks and associated normative foundations that may be dominant in the investigated scientific discourse. The resulting implications are discussed in the chapter Reasons for the lock-in and what to learn from it .

Table 1 shows the synopsis of statements across all interviews that are related to possible explanations for the course of the scientific debates or to possible ways to alleviate the persisting controversies.

Lock-in of scientific discourse

The analysis at hand shows that two lines of discussion have emerged along two main arguments that relativize the environmental performance of OA in terms of lower productivity. Strikingly, from an argumentative point of view, these lines do not show a substantial development over the course of the last twenty years or so.

Against this background, the present analysis provides evidence for the validity of the assumption formulated at the beginning that the scientific discourse on the relative environmental merits of OA have taken place in an altogether little fruitful manner. In summary, since the beginning of the political support debates, no scientific consensus could be formulated on the extent to which an expansion of organically managed land, which is politically embedded in many places, will help address the environmental and resource challenges.

Certainly, it is not the goal of research to produce as homogeneous scientific knowledge as possible. However, in view of the long period of debates and the partly opposing positions that continue to exist in academic circles, it is remarkable that the productive nature of scientific research in the sense of formulating syntheses has not sufficiently taken place. Given the urgency of environmental and resource problems to be solved and that OA has gained much attention as a possible strategy, the course of scientific debates appears even more problematic.

Thus, we argue that a “lock-in” of scientific debate prevails. Various reasons for and implications of this development are conceivable and will be discussed in the following chapter.

Reasons for the lock-in and what to learn from it

First and foremost, it appears that the binary initial question regarding relative merits of OA compared to CA favors a polarizing discussion space. Accordingly, conclusions are likely to move in dichotomies. This has already been addressed by Mehrabi et al. ( 2017 ) in the context of alternative approaches to conventional intensification. The authors argue that binary “organic versus conventional” system classifications have exceedingly poor explanatory power; this holds, especially for making clear evidence-based decisions regarding socioecological outcomes of different farming systems on a global scale. Thus, they advocate “more contextual and outcome-based experiments of farming practices” to turn away from “divisive discourse” (Mehrabi et al. 2017 : 721) and to promote socioecological benefits of different farming systems.

Further, the expert interviews suggest that the research and development of “hybrid” farming systems might be a way to foster the debates on sustainable agriculture. Other researchers already have called for the deliberate reframing of binary research questions regarding a more differentiated consideration of the multilayered ecological problems and approaches to solutions (cf. Kremen 2015 ; Seufert and Ramankutty 2017 ; Shennan et al. 2017 ). In this context, a final settlement of the “ideologically charged ‘organic versus conventional’ debate” (Seufert et al. 2012 : 231) seems important to avoid fruitless discourse.

Indeed, alternative concepts beyond the organic-conventional dichotomy increasingly diversify both scientific and societal discussions about sustainable agriculture. For example, the agroecology concept is gaining recognition in policy-making (cf. Bisoffi 2019 ; FAO 2018 ), but other (partly interrelated) concepts such as conservation agriculture (cf. Kassam et al. 2019 ; Page et al. 2020 ), sustainable intensification (cf. Cassman and Grassini 2020 ; Pretty et al. 2018 ), ecological intensification (cf. Kernecker et al. 2021 ; Kremen 2020 ), or regenerative agriculture (cf. LaCanne and Lundgren 2018 ; Lal 2020 ) are also being debated internationally. Footnote 8 However, in the European context, OA continues to be the key benchmark for “greening” conventional systems (WBAE 2020 ). Regarding the “growing enthusiasm” for regenerative agriculture, Giller et al. ( 2021 : 22), in line with the reasoning of this paper, see “the need for agronomists to be more explicit about the fact that many of the […] dichotomies that frame public, and to some degree the scientific debates about agriculture, have little if any analytical purchase.”

Moreover, although the emphasis on inter- and transdisciplinary research (cf. Veerman et al. 2020 ) to meet the complex problem space seems like a logical conclusion, it can be assumed that it is no panacea. As Bruhn et al. ( 2019 ) point out, such endeavors would ideally be structured in a reflexive and co-creative way to advise transformative policy. However, it is not only the issue of lacking standardized frameworks and different traditions and vocabularies of the various disciplines involved (cf. Garibaldi et al. 2017 ) that needs to be overcome. When operationalizing sustainability in agri-food systems, also different value systems and related normative assumptions of the involved researchers must be considered (cf. Fischer et al. 2014 ; Halberg et al. 2005 ; Kuyper and Struik 2014 ; Thompson 2010 ).

Consequently, overcoming ideological barriers between supporters and critics of OA is also recognized as a prerequisite for developing and implementing more sustainable farming systems and their research (cf. Eyhorn et al. 2019 ; Meemken and Qaim 2018 ). In general, however, the expert interviews suggest that “path dependencies” regarding certain narratives of agricultural development and a lack of awareness in natural sciences as to how the framing of research questions are embedded in scientific discourse might be major obstacles for such deliberation.

In this context, the argument made by Sanders and Heß (2019) on inadequate justifications for appropriate reference units can be taken further in light of the present results. The backing argumentation, as described in the chapter The role of reference units in environmental impact assessments , reveals that basic normative assumptions in the choice of a reference unit are an implicit part of the discussions and likely are conducive to a polarizing overall debate. For example, there is the question of whether (arable) land is understood as a substitutable input to the agricultural production process or as an integral part of the agroecosystem (cf. Berlin and Uhlin 2004 ; Tuomisto et al. 2012 ). Or the question of which “purpose” agricultural systems primarily are to fulfill in the societal context (cf. Leifeld 2016 ; Ponisio and Kremen 2016 ) and which framework is to be prioritized in the assessment of environmental impacts accordingly. Here, it becomes clear that different understandings of sustainability are implicitly involved, which can be subsumed under the terms “resource sufficiency” and “functional integrity” Footnote 9 (cf. Halberg 2012 ; Thompson 2010 ).

Table 2 characterizes these two concepts according to Thompson ( 2010 ) and the “three schools of defining agricultural sustainability” (Halberg 2012 : 983–984) according to Douglass ( 1984 ), on which the former are based.

Importantly, Halberg ( 2012 ) recognizes that the different schools of agricultural sustainability according to Douglass ( 1984 ) are still present in contemporary debates, “but many users of the sustainability term seem not to be fully aware of the normative content” (Halberg 2012 : 983). Hence, the confounding influence that the sustainability term potentially has on binary scientific debates at hand is pointed out by Seufert ( 2019 : 196): “critics argue that organic agriculture may actually not be more sustainable than conventional agriculture […]” while advocates of OA “argue that the jury on comparative yields […] is still out […] or that yields are not the right metric to assess farming systems by.”

However, no substantial discussion of these frameworks, which are influenced by value systems when at work in the assessment of environmental impacts of OA, could be identified in the analyzed literature. It can therefore be assumed that the choice of a reference unit can be an entry point for critical reflection on the inevitable associated normative basic assumptions in environmental impact assessments and that the overall discourse could thus gain in transparency.

The paper aimed at retracing the scientific discourse on environmental impacts of OA and exploring why these continue to be assessed controversially. It could be shown that the debates are characterized by a “lock-in” which is complicated by persisting disagreement in the scientific community on appropriate thematic and spatial boundaries for the assessment of environmental impacts.

We conclude that it appears central to overcome binary questions to alleviate the consequent polarizing logic of the debates under investigation. Thus, the question arises, for example, to what extent comparative case studies that aim to quantify environmental impacts between OA and CA under controlled conditions can make a substantial contribution to the political debate on the future role of OA.

The paper further suggests that the insufficient empirical evidence, particularly on leakage effects and on studies directly linking yield data and environmental impacts on the same fields or farms, complicates the debates. It cannot be assumed, however, that gathering more data will be the sole key to reducing controversy. Consequently, it is increasingly appropriate to discuss the usefulness of research questions by considering a broader view of societies’ underpinnings facing increasing global crises. Researchers engaged with environmental impact assessments of agriculture should therefore be aware of their role in the process of co-creating narratives and thus exerting power (cf. Scoones et al. 2019 ). This is especially true for the implicit operationalization of different sustainability concepts, which is often mediated by the choice of reference units.

Against this background, basic normative assumptions should be more strongly reflected and disclosed when assessing environmental impacts of alternative farming systems. As Nielsen et al. ( 2019 ) point out, when considering agricultural LU from the perspective of complex human–environment land systems, there is a need for increased discussion about the normative implications of the scientific research process. Here, it appears crucial to create discussion spaces for agricultural research to appropriately consider the normative aspects that are intrinsic to the sustainability assessments of alternative farming systems. This could make the scientific debates at hand more productive and lead to greater transparency in advising political transformation processes of agri-food systems.

Availability of data and material

The analyzed literature is all published literature. A full record list with bibliographic data is available in Online Resource 1 . The analyzed interview transcripts are available in German language in Online Resource 3 .

Today, the scope of agricultural production is extended far beyond the provision of food and includes numerous environmental and resource-related challenges. In a global context, agriculture’s most critical environmental impacts include soil and water degradation, habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss, freshwater withdrawal, disrupted nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and greenhouse gas emissions (Foley et al. 2011 ). At the same time, hunger is on the rise again with over 800 million people undernourished or lacking sufficient nutrients, while overweight and obesity are also increasing rapidly across the globe, leading to a “triple burden” of malnutrition (Gómez et al. 2013 ; HLPE 2017 ; Ingram 2020 ). Such challenges increasingly gain traction in science and policy arenas, not least due to the overarching debate on climate change, making evident the interconnectedness between global warming and food systems and thus its socioecological consequences (IPCC 2019 ).

The PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) Statement comprises guidelines that address conceptual and practical advances in the science of systematic reviews (cf. Moher et al. 2009 ).

Search string (applied on 28/01/2020): TITLE-ABS-KEY ((“organic farm*” OR “organic agricul*”) AND (“environment* impact” OR “environment* effect”) AND yield) .

This refers to the environmental dimensions of biodiversity, water protection, climate protection, and climate adaptation. The reference units for assessing impacts on soil fertility (area) and resource (N and energy) efficiency (output) were considered immanent (Sanders and Heß 2019).

For example, Müller et al. ( 2016 : 16) argue that single-criteria assessments such as emissions per unit output disregard negative externalities, e.g., through the production of synthetic inputs or concentrate feed. Similarly, the IPES-Food ( 2016 : 68) finds that classical measures of agricultural productivity systematically undervalue benefits of diversified systems; thus, new “measures of success” should be established which account for, e.g., total resource flows and interactions between the agricultural sector and the wider economy.

Within the LCA methodology, the term "functional unit" is used (according to the “function” attributed to a studied system) and “serves as the reference basis for all calculations regarding impact assessment” (Arzoumanidis et al. 2020 : 1). Thus, in the context of this study, "functional unit" can be considered synonymous with the term "reference unit" (cf. van der Werf et al. 2020 ).

As Douglas ( 2016 : 475) states, “Policy influences which science we pursue and how we pursue it in practice, as well as how science ultimately informs policy. Values inform our choices in these areas, as values shape the research agendas scientists pursue, the issues debated as we decide on policy, and what counts as sufficient warrant in any given case”.

For a characterization of some of the mentioned concepts, see Garibaldi et al. ( 2017 ). For discussions about different perspectives on agricultural intensification to foster sustainability and the associated scientific controversy, see Kuyper and Struik ( 2014 ) and Struik et al. ( 2014 ).

Note that Müller et al. ( 2016 ), for example, use the term “resource sufficiency” for describing approaches that reduce wastage or the consumption of animal products regarding climate change mitigation in food systems. They further argue that for an encompassing sustainability assessment of OA it is crucial to consider not only “efficiency” and “sufficiency” measures but also the "consistency" of resource use, i.e., approaches to optimal resource use that address “the question of the roles different resources play in the context of a sustainable food system” (Müller et al. 2016 : 42).

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Dr. Christian Schleyer for valuable suggestions on and supervision of the master's thesis that resulted in this paper. Further, the authors would like to thank the reviewers for valuable comments and suggestions on the first draft of the manuscript.

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Debuschewitz, E., Sanders, J. Environmental impacts of organic agriculture and the controversial scientific debates. Org. Agr. 12 , 1–15 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13165-021-00381-z

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Is organic food good for health? Maybe, but it upsets flying mammals

Organic food without pesticides, hormones, fertilizers, herbicides, antibiotics, artificial chemicals, and genetically modified organisms is regarded by many as being better for human health and better for biodiversity than conventional farming.

Yet the activity of bats declines as farms make the transition to organic agriculture , according to new research on insect-eating bats at citrus orchards in Cyprus, according to a new study led by the Universities of Bristol, Göttingen, and Exeter. 

The paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, was entitled: “Transition to organic farming negatively affects bat activity.”

The effectiveness of organic farming on biodiversity has been widely documented especially for plants, arthropods, and birds; however, the effects of the transition period required to become an organic farm on wildlife have remained poorly understood.

Agriculture is a major use for land around the world and especially in the enlarged European Union, which encompasses 45% of land cover and involves a lot of intensive agriculture. A direct result of the intensification and expansion of modern agricultural practices in the last century is the biological simplification of the farmed environment, becoming increasingly visible through declines in farmland biodiversity and reduced compositional and configurational landscape heterogeneity.

A conventional citrus orchard in Cyprus. (credit: Penelope Fialas)

Organic farming could harm bats.

The study examined 22 matched pairs of citrus orchards, comparing bat activity at certified organic farms with conventional farms, and organic-transition farms with conventional farms. The bat species included in the study were Kuhl's pipistrelle, Savi's pipistrelle, the common bent-wing), and the common pipistrelle. 

Activity of three of the four species included in the study was significantly lower at farms in the transition period, compared to conventional farms . However, activity increased on established organic farms – suggesting a “time lag” before the organic biodiversity boost for the most abundant bat species. 

“We were surprised by our results; we expected the transition to organic farming to bring positive effects from the start,” said Penelope Fialas, from the University of Exeter.

“We can’t be certain why bats are negatively affected, but previous research suggests soil can suffer – with knock-on effects for other wildlife – when fertilizers, pesticides, and other aspects of conventional farming stop. “The soil and the wider ecosystem may take time to recover.”

Fialas added that “our findings suggest the transition to organic farming should be managed carefully, to limit any negative effects on biodiversity. For example, neighboring farms could avoid simultaneous transitions, allowing wildlife to find alternative habitats nearby while each farm switches its methods.”

The University of Bristol’s Gareth Jones said that “We’ve long known that organic farms often harbor higher biodiversity than otherwise-similar conventional farms. The transition to organic farming has been little studied, however, and determining if the detrimental effects during transition observed here hold for other animals and plants would be an interesting future research project.”

 A colorful display of organic vegetables.

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  1. RESEARCH: Organic Food is Better

  2. స్వచ్ఛమైన ఆహారం..ఈ హాఫ్ ఎక్కరం తో స్టార్ట్ చేశా I swachamayina Aaharam farm I Satyam24 Raithubadi

  3. Ecological Weed Management for the Western U.S

  4. WHY I Study Organic Farming

  5. day 62 : फणस #shorts #agriculture #agritools #farming2024 #noamanreaction

  6. How Soil Biology Challenges Traditional Farming Methods // KSL Festival Spring 2024

COMMENTS

  1. Rooted in Nature: The Rise, Challenges, and Potential of Organic ...

    Organic farming, which is deeply rooted in traditional agricultural practices, has witnessed a profound evolution over the last century. Transitioning from a grassroots initiative resisting the industrialization of agriculture to a global industry, organic farming now plays a pivotal role in addressing contemporary challenges related to environmental health, sustainability, and food safety.

  2. Full article: Plant organic farming research

    Organic farming and soil fertility. Badgley et al. [Citation 12] express an opinion that organic systems for food production can contribute substantially for feeding the fast growing human population on the current agricultural land base, while maintaining soil structure and fertility.The so-called conservation agriculture is being widely promoted in many areas mostly for the recovery of ...

  3. 165 questions with answers in ORGANIC FARMING

    26 answers. Apr 13, 2017. In ecological/organic farming several formulations with non native microorganisms are used for pest and disease control some examples are Trichoderma spp, Metarhizium, BT ...

  4. Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a

    In this paper, we review the available evidence on links between farming system (conventional vs organic) and human health. ... current research on the role of organic food consumption in human health is scarce, as compared to other nutritional epidemiology topics. ... Organic agriculture allows for lower pesticide residues in food and may be ...

  5. Home

    The International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) was launched in 2003 and promotes and supports research in all areas of Organic Agriculture by facilitating global co-operation in research, methodological development, education and knowledge exchange; supporting individual researchers through membership services, publications and events and integrating stakeholders in the ...

  6. Articles

    Legume cover crop as a primary nitrogen source in an organic crop rotation in Ontario, Canada: impacts on corn, soybean and winter wheat yields. Xueming Yang. Craig F. Drury. Mary-Anne D. Reeb. OriginalPaper Open access 29 December 2023 Pages: 19 - 31.

  7. Impact of organic farming on soil health and nutritional quality of

    Both conventional and organic approaches to agricultural production are perennially contentious topics of discussion. This study of organic farming includes many keywords associated ... These keywords have been used extensively in organic farming (research papers cited in the text) from 2019 to 2022, and they are all associated with this ...

  8. (PDF) Organic farming research in India: Potential technologies and way

    The area of organic farming increased rapidly from 0.58 thousand ha in 2003-04 to 26.6 thousand ha in. 2020-21, and many government schemes are initiated. Of the farmers involved in organic f ...

  9. The reflection of principles and values in worldwide organic

    The proportions of organic food research papers on the topics 'consumers' preferences' and 'product quality' showed particular increases, from 4 to 14% and 6 to 13%, respectively, in the period 2000-2021 (Fig. 4C). These increases indicate that recent research on organic food and agriculture has been dominated by a consumer-oriented ...

  10. Research

    The Organic Farming Research Foundation presents the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA), a report informed by surveys and focus groups conducted in 2020 with over 1,100 certified organic and 71 transitioning-organic farmers and ranchers across North America. Participants provided input and perspectives on their current organic ...

  11. Role of organic farming for achieving sustainability in agriculture

    Organic farming is beneficial to soil by organic matter build-up. ... The best way to achieve the SDGs is a passionately debated topic. Based on research and arguments, Sustainable agriculture and food systems must supply sufficient and nutritious food for everyone while reducing negative environmental effects and allowing farmers to make a ...

  12. (PDF) Organic Farming: The Return to Nature

    e-mail: [email protected]. A. Tariq. e-mail: [email protected]. Abstract Organic farming is a modern and a sustainable form of agriculture that. provides consumers fresh natural farm products ...

  13. Organic Farming

    Abstract. Organic farming offers an alternative to more widespread, high input farming practices that use synthetic fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. It is based on the idea that the soil is a living system so these synthetic products are largely excluded from organic farms. Organic agriculture relies on crop rotation, animal manures ...

  14. Organic Farming Research and Information

    Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture 2000-2005 (2007) Statistical Review of California's Organic Agriculture 1998-2003 (2005) Online Resources Related to Organic Farming. Research and Extension Project Databases. SAREP Funded Projects Database (searchable by crop, topic, organic relevance) USDA-SARE program projects database

  15. Agriculture

    In many developing countries, organic agriculture is increasingly recognized as a key strategy for promoting rural economic development and improving farmer welfare. It is primarily smallholders who form the foundation of organic production in these areas. However, these farmers face significant challenges in adopting organic farming methods. The aim of this paper is to investigate solutions ...

  16. Organic farming in India: a vision towards a healthy nation

    Organic farming yields more nutritious and safe food. The popularity of organic food is growing dramatically as consumer seeks the organic foods that are thought to be healthier and safer. Thus, organic food perhaps ensures food safety from farm to plate. The organic farming process is more eco-friendly than conventional farming.

  17. 156 Best Agriculture Research Topics For Your Thesis Paper

    This is the summary of the research paper. It demonstrates what the thesis contributed to the field of study. It also helps to approve or nullify the thesis adopted at the start of the paper. Interesting Agriculture Related Topics. This list includes all the interesting topics in agriculture. You can take any topic and get it free:

  18. Systematic Literature Review on Organic Farming for Sustainable

    Join ResearchGate to discover and stay up-to-date with the latest research from leading experts in Organic Farming and many other scientific topics. Join for free ResearchGate iOS App

  19. PDF Recent Trends in Organic Farming in India: A Study

    The total area under organic farming in India is presented in table 1. It is evident from table 1, the total area under organic agriculture in India in 2020-21 is 43, 39, and 184.93 hectares. Among them 61.25 per cent of land is under organic agriculture in conversion. The area under wild harvest collection is 38.75 per cent.

  20. Environmental impacts of organic agriculture and the controversial

    The environmental impacts of organic agriculture have been controversially discussed in the scientific community for many years. There are still conflicting views on how far organic agriculture can help address environmental and resource challenges, and whether its promotion is an appropriate policy approach to solving existing socioecological problems. So far, no clear perspective on these ...

  21. Home

    Based on a webinar and recent research from Dr. Xin Zhao, this post shares the importance of high tunnels for organic vegetable production in the Southeast and discusses challenges faced by growers in the region, and research outcomes related to temperature regulation, insect pressure, fogging systems, shade and light management, with recommendations for optimizing production and addressing ...

  22. Organic Farming Research Papers

    Thematic and citation structure dynamics of Organic Food & Farming research. in Neuhoff D. (ed.) 3rd ISOFAR Scientific Conference at the 17th IFOAM Organic World Congress, Gyeonggi Paldang, Republic of Korea, 28/09-01/10/2011, pp. 4. "This paper analyses the Organic Food & Farming (OF&F) scientific domain dynamic throught a "progressive ...

  23. U of R research engineer creates innovative alternative to paper straws

    1:53 U of R researcher creates innovative alternative to paper straws. WATCH: A U of R research engineer is tackling the issue of the dreaded soggy drinking straw. Trillian Reynoldson has more on ...

  24. Is organic food good for health? Maybe, but it upsets flying mammals

    The effectiveness of organic farming on biodiversity has been widely documented especially for plants, but there is less research about the effects on wildlife such as bats.

  25. (PDF) Organic Farming in India: Present Status, Challenges and

    3. Organic Farming in India: Present Status and Future. India holds a unique position among 172 countries practicing organic agriculture: it has 6, 50,000. organic producers, 699 processors, 669 ...