Name change for Biological Farmers of Australia

Organic organisation, Biological Farmers of Australia, has changed its name to Australian Organic.

According to a statement issued by the not-for-profit organisation, the name change better reflects the business of Australian Organic, which is to promote organic produce, better educate the public about organic food and fibre, and facilitate organic certification.

Organic Australia owns the logo that appears on many certified organic products in Australia 0 the Australian Certified Organic 'Bud' mark as well as the Organic Growers of Australia sunflower logo, a certifying trademark for small growers.

Both of these brands will be unaffected by the name change.

Chair of the Australian Organic Ltd board, Andrew Monk said "Biological Farmers of Australia was a great name that reflected the origins of the company, at a time when organic as a brand was not well understood; however now the company is made up of farmers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers committed to growing organics in Australia, with the promotion of organics being the core focus of the group.

"We needed a stronger brand that supports the company's long term goals and clearly says what we are about."

Biological Farmers of Australia was formed by a group of farmers 25 years ago to support organic farming, before moving into certification.

 

Green wine growth in McLaren Vale

A growing demand from consumers for environmentally sustainable wines has led one entire region to introduce a sustainable winegrowing program, writes Christine Salins.

McLaren Vale, in South Australia, launched a program in April last year enabling growers to be monitored on a range of factors, including water and fertiliser use and soil quality.

The program, McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, has had an impressive uptake with around 90 growers signing up, representing more than a third of the region’s harvest.

The results have exceeded expectations according to the chairman of the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine & Tourism Association, Peter Hayes, who expects other regions will likely follow suit.

Growers behind the initiative to brand McLaren Vale as an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible region have noted a growing consumer demand for sustainable wines, an observation supported by the former chief executive of the Winemakers' Federation of Australia, Steven Strachan.

Before his departure from the role in the middle of last year, Strachan was reported as saying that while it would take time to assess the impact of the McLaren Vale initiative, he had little doubt that it would be a success because the “marketplace is really starting to indicate they want these initiatives in place."

Aimed at helping growers improve vineyard sustainability, the McLaren Vale program uses a combination of data reporting and self-assessment through a workbook of viticultural practices and third-party audits. The content is written by local growers and peer-reviewed by experts nationwide.

Growers self-assess their vineyard operation in areas such as soil health, nutrition and fertiliser management, pest and disease management, biodiversity management, water management and waste management.

They can then ascertain how well they are performing, both in terms of best practice as well as against their peer group.

With an oversupply of grapes pushing prices down in recent years, winemakers have had to contend with tight profit margins. Understandably there are fears that any push for environmentally-sustainable wine will add to production costs.

But Hayes thinks the move will ultimately safeguard the future of McLaren Vale.

"There's no doubt costs, but the benefits very much are the industry retains its credible role in society … it is seen as a leader in considerate agricultural production," he said.

“We expect other regions will follow our lead and adopt the program, tailoring it to their region.”

Hayes said the program had a triple bottom line approach relating to economic, social and environmental considerations and was “very much an improvement-driven program” rather than a report-driven one.

It was independent of farming systems so conventional, organic and biodynamic grapegrowers alike could benefit from being involved.

In the first assessment of the program, in October, 23 percent of respondents identified as using certified or uncertified organic/biodynamic farming systems.

A further 51 percent identified their farming system as “low-input conventional with IPM (integrated pest management) principles”.

“Along with specific measures of vineyard practice and environmental performance, MVSWGA has generated very useful and powerful data to produce an overview of viticulture in the region,” Hayes said.

“This data, over time, will be extremely useful for us in terms of understanding the region and our members, uncovering marketable trends, and as a tool when attempting to influence policy that affects the region.

“A conscious decision was made to ensure that the system offers the opportunity to improve business performance in addition to encouraging – and offering a pathway to – environmental best practice.”

Angove Family Winemakers, which opened a cellar door in McLaren Vale in late 2011, acknowledges both sustainability and market opportunity as its reasons for converting its vineyards to organic.

Its historic Warboys Vineyard in McLaren Vale is certified organic and biodynamic while about a quarter, or 40 hectares, of its Nanya vineyard in Renmark is organic.

Angove’s global brand manager, Richard Angove, said the program “underpins with real measures the sustainability of growing grapes in McLaren Vale”.

“The region’s aim is to be known as the most sustainable wine growing region in the world and with the measures that the Sustainable Winegrowing program provides, the hope is that this provides a factual basis to support the claim,” he said.

“The engagement of the community with the program has been fantastic and brought the community together. As a vineyard owner in McLaren Vale it was natural for us to get involved in the program from the outset.”

Angove appreciates the fact that the program is being continually improved and that it fosters a “philosophy that you can always do things better”.

“We score quite highly in the program, however there is always room to improve,” he said.

One of the country’s oldest family-owned winemakers, the company is in the process of converting another 100 acres of its Nanya vineyard to organic.

Angove cites a number of reasons for going organic – sustainability and concern for the environment, healthier soils and ultimately better wines.

Organically grown vines have healthier root systems and stronger immune systems than conventionally farmed vines, and they tend to recover from stress better and perform better during tough growing seasons.

“We have been growing grapes organically for over 10 years and have seen the benefits that these practices have to vine balance and health.”

The company believes it is the responsibility of each generation to ensure the sustainability and quality of the vineyards for the next generation.

“I always think we are so lucky to have vines that were planted over 70 years ago to harvest and make wine from and that the only way someone in another 70 years can do this will be for us to look after the soil and environment and pass on the knowledge of how to do it,” Angove said.

"Our long-term aim is to chip away and go 100 percent organic.”


 

What’s in store for food manufacturing in 2013?

2012 has been a tough year for food and beverage manufacturers. Will next year be much the same?

Only coming in as editor of Food magazine a few weeks ago (although, it feels like a lifetime ago now!) I'm not going to pretend that I fully understand the trials and tribulations that 2012 has thrown at you manufacturers – big and small.

But, I am getting my head around a few of the big issues. Correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of talk seems to be around that big scary phrase, 'Asian century'. Stories like this and this show that while there are a lot of opportunities for Australian manufacturers to take advantage of Asia's interest in our food industry, we're not exactly sure how best to take advantage of them and how much power or control we're willing to hand over. Consumers aren't 100 convinced either….

Another key issue is sustainability, and most of it seems to surround seafood at the moment. Whether it's naming and shaming those companies reluctant to embrace sustainable fishing methods or clarifying which species are threatened and which aren't, sustainability is sure to be another hot topic in 2013.

Let's not forget the supermarkets. The duopoly made headline countless times this year, with the dominance of private labels of particular interest to the industry, not to mention the price wars and their effect on our producers.

Love them or hate them, Coles and Woolies are here to stay, I just wonder if the consumer's concern for battling Aussie brands will continue to grow, and if/how the duopoly will respond?

Labelling, labelling, labelling. Manufacturers are under more and more pressure to be upfront and honest about EXACTLY what they are – are they organic? Better yet are they CERTIFIED organic? Are they Australian-made? And what does this even mean? Are the product's contents grown here? Is the product packaged here? Or is it made from 'local and imported ingredient?' – which can be hugely misleading for consumers. I think next year manufacturers' claims will be put under the microscope and labelling reforms will gain serious momentum.

Pressure is also on manufacturers to be upfront about how good their products are for consumers. Health is a growing concern for Australian consumers (as our waistlines are growing too) and industry bodies and governments are in the process of developing a labelling system which is easy to understand and which clearly defines the health and nutritional value of food and beverage products. It won't be traffic lights, but it could be stars.

Just last week proposals for new regulations were approved which would see stricter controls for on-pack health claims, including the need to provide scientific evidence to support claims as well as a requirement to meet specific eligibility criteria including nutrition criteria.

I know there are more, but these are the burning topics that I've read and written about the most in my brief few weeks in the editor's chair. But as I said in my introductory article, I'm all ears. Now's your chance to share your thoughts and tell all Food readers what you see in your crystal ball.

Merry Christmas to you all, and the Food team will be back (and ready for a big, eventful year) on 7 January, 2013.

 

Australia’s Own organic wraps

Product name: Australia's Own Organic 100% certified organic Rye, Oat and Linseed wraps

Product manufacturer: Freedom Foods Brands

Ingredients: Key ingredients are water, organic Wheat Flour, organic Wholemeal Flour (25%), organic Grain & Seed Mix (4.5%), rolled Oats (1.5%), linseeds (1.5%)

Shelf life: Extended shelf life of three months

Packaging: Five wraps per pack (225g net)

Product manager: Angelo De Blasio

Brand website: https://www.australiasownorganic.com.au

Describe the product
Australia's Own Organic 100 percent certified Rye, Oat and Linseed Wraps are made up of Organic Wheat Flour and Organic Grains, and unlike many other bakery products on the market, offer consumers the 'E's they want (ease and enjoyment with meal preparation) and not the ones they don't want – 'E' preservatives.

Certified organic; high in fibre, Australian made, containing no artificial colours or flavours nor any genetically modified ingredients, naturally rich in complex carbohydrates for energy and available in a resealable pack for freshness, Australia's Own Organic 100 percent certified Rye, Oat and Linseed wraps are a nutritious and enjoyable way to tackle the lunchtime sandwich – guilt free!

 

Dairy farmers’ new joint venture to churn out organic butter

Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia has teamed up with the home delivery food franchise, Aussie Farmers Direct, in a joint venture which will see the production of certified organic butter from a new manufacturing facility.

The $1.2m venture will include raw material handling, equipment and butter making machinery and will see the creation of a new butter processing facility, as part of an upgrade to the Aussie Farmers Dairy in Victoria's Camperdown.

Two different types of butter will be churned out: Aussie Farmers will convert its cream into Aussie Farmers branded butter packs, and a certified organic butter will also be produced using organic milk supplied by the 22 dairy farmers that make up the Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia. The latter will be sold under the Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia label and also under its second brand, True Organic.

Butter production is expected to kick off by the end of June 2013, if not before, and in its full first year should deliver between one- and two-million packs of butter.

Peter Skene, CEO, Aussie Farmers Dairy, said "We are incredibly proud to be partnering with Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia – they’re a very special group of organic dairy farmers and we appreciate the quality of supply and the credibility and expertise they bring to this joint venture.

"We believe our joint entry into the Australian butter market will not only benefit more local Aussie dairy farmers by providing a greater choice of buyers and volume of demand for their milk and cream, but will also help to support and strengthen the creation of additional jobs for the local community and give consumers the choice of a 100 percent Australian owned and produced butter range."

This is Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia's second direct investment in manufacturing in the past six months, following its joint venture with high-end French cheese maker, L’Artisan Cheese.

The joint venture will be music to the ears of dairy farmers across the country, who have struggled with cost cutting by the supermarket duopoly.

And it's not just Australian producers who are unhappy. Earlier this week angry dairy farmers in Brussels sprayed riot police and parliament structures with a fire hose full of milk, protesting agains unfair pricing systems. Read more here

 

US food safety delay, China’s liquor scandal: Global News Bites

A new weekly segment, Global News Bites keeps you up-to-date on what's happening around the world in food and beverage manufacturing.

Food Safety Modernization Act Could Finally Be Implemented With Election Over
Usually, when President Barack Obama has been criticized for moving too cautiously on a given issue, he’s been able to blame a divided, obstinate Congress for slowing him down. But when it comes to food safety reform, he may not be able to pass the buck quite so easily — because Congress already gave him the go-ahead to act. Obama signed the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law in January 2011. The act, which was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio and passed with modest Republican support, promised the biggest overhaul of the country’s food safety regulations in decades. It was supposed to shift the country’s legal regime on food safety away from criminal punishment and toward prevention, largely by instituting four sets of rules about how the food industry, both here and abroad, would have to ensure its products are safe.

The four regulations would impose stronger controls on imported foods, mandate comprehensive systems for preventing produce contamination, and require more frequent inspections and rigorous controls of facilities that produce packaged foods and animal feed. "This law was the first modernization of food safety laws in about 70 years,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, a food safety expert with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It impacts 80 percent of the foods that consumers purchase — essentially all foods except those containing meat or poultry are covered under this act.” Yet, nearly two years after its passage, none of these four major regulations have even been released in provisional form — despite the fact that FSMA set Jan. 4, 2012 as the deadline for that release. According to some, the delay is the product of politically motivated intransigence in the White House.
https://blog.usfoodsafety.com/2012/11/20/food-safety-modernization-act-could-finally-be-implemented-with-election-over/

Liquor scandal prompts food safety efforts
China's national quality watchdog has urged a massive overhaul on producers of spirits nationwide after confirming that some liquor products contained excessive levels of a plasticizer. The latest scandal was first exposed in a research report from a website on Monday, renewing public concern about food safety. A probe into the distilled spirits market has found trace amounts of DEHP, mainly DBP, in liquor products. Most experts believe liquor producers do not deliberately add plasticizers to their products, which may well be tainted via plastic containers or tubes in their storage or transport … The liquor scandal will deal a blow to the competitive industry. Sales of some liquor products have dropped in the wake of the scandal, which has not yet fully shown its scope. In fact, the China Alcoholic Drinks Association knew that liquor products contained plasticizers in June last year and urged liquor companies to trace the sources of plasticizers. Later, it asked liquor companies to ban the use of plastic products in production, storage and transport. Shortly after plasticizers were detected in hundreds of local products in Taiwan in May 2011, the Chinese mainland authorities were alerted to the contamination.

In June 2011, the national food safety committee issued a notice on strengthening the quality safety of liquor products. This was the latest in a string of food contamination scandals, which has included melamine-tainted milk, pork containing the illegal additive clenbuterol and pharmaceutical capsules with excessive levels of chromium, over the past five years … Official data show that the law enforcement dealt with more than 180,000 food and medicine safety cases and penalized nearly 40,000 people in such cases between November 2007 and February 2012.
https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2012-11/23/content_15953765.htm

Canada’s organic food certification system ‘little more than an extortion racket,’ report says
Annual organic agricultural sales in Canada exceed $2.6-billion, by recent estimates, with supermarket chains joining alternative stores in stocking an ever-widening array of organic-labelled products. As the popularity of organic food explodes in Canada, it has drawn new scrutiny that raises questions over its authenticity, meaning and value. It is the authenticity of organic food labelling that forms the core of an excoriating report this month from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Canada’s legislated organic certification process is an invitation for fraud and abuse, the report argues, with consumers paying an often hefty premium for a designation that requires no proof. In response to the organic industry’s growth, Canada enacted a labelling requirement: Since 2009, products making an organic claim must be certified by an agency accredited by the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Not included in that process, however, is mandatory laboratory testing of products that could ensure organic-labelled food is actually farmed without pesticides, leaving the organics industry in the hands of the honour system. “It amounts to little more than an extortion racket, one that the greediest of mafiosi would envy,” write Mischa Popoff and Patrick Moore in their report released this month by the Winnipeg-based, free-market-friendly think-tank.
https://news.nationalpost.com/2012/11/24/canadas-organic-food-certification-system-little-more-than-an-extortion-racket-report-says/

Around 47% of US on food stamps
An analysis by Breitbart News has found that the number of individuals on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of 24 states and the District of Columbia. In November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that a record 47,102,780 individuals receive food stamps. According to US. Census Bureau data, that figure exceeds the combined populations of: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Since January 2009, the number of individuals on food stamps has skyrocketed from 31.9 million to the current record high 47.1 million. By comparison, in 1969 just 2.8 million Americans received food stamps.
https://www.humanevents.com/2012/11/24/poverty-nation-more-people-on-food-stamps-than-population-of-24-states/

Canada meat plant operations halted on food safety concerns
Canadian food inspectors on Friday said they have suspended operations at a meat-processing plant in Edmonton, Alberta, for failing to properly track its deliveries after detecting the Listeria bacteria on an employee. The incident comes just a month after a major health scare in Canada over tainted beef at another meat plant in the province. Capital Packers Inc detected the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes – which can cause fever, nausea and even meningitis in infected people – on a worker's sleeve and on Monday notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). While such a finding is routine and there is no evidence that any food was contaminated, the CFIA suspended the company's license as a precautionary measure after finding it was unable to properly track the whereabouts of its products. "The company's ability to understand the distribution of their products is in question and is an element of concern for us, hence the license suspension," Paul Mayers, associate vice-president of programs at the CFIA, told reporters on a teleconference. Initially, the company told the CFIA that the potentially affected products were under its control. The CFIA's own investigation determined that they may in fact have been delivered to several provinces, Mayars said. In September, the XL Foods meat plant in Alberta was shut down for about a month after it produced millions of pounds of beef tainted with the E. coli bacteria that sickened at least 16 people in Canada. Capital Packers makes bacon, sausages, fresh meats and other products and sells them in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories, according to its Web site. The company has voluntary recalled ham sausages under the brand names Capital and Compliments.
https://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/23/canada-meat-listeria-idUSL1E8MN5RY20121123

Farmers locked in food production vs. pollution trade-off
Agriculture remains a major threat to water quality in Europe, according to the latest report by the European Union’s environmental agency. But farmers and EU policymakers are also quick to highlight the trade-off between conservation objectives and pressure to increase food production. At a time when other sources of pollution have cleaned up their act, the European Union’s environmental watchdog reports that intensive farming practices are contributing to “significant loads of pollutants” in surface water. The European Environment Agency, in a new assessment, reports that 48% of streams and lakes in the EU will fail to meet good ecological status by 2015 as required by the 2000 Water Framework Directive. Excessive nutrients from fertilisers are a leading problem, the EEA report says, with one consequence being the growth algae that chokes off oxygen to fish and plant life in lakes, streams and bays. “Agricultural production is becoming increasingly intensive, with high input of fertilisers and pesticides, in turn resulting in significant loads of pollutants to the water environment through diffuse pollution,” the EEA says in a new report on Europe’s water status. The European Commission’s Water Blueprint, released a day later on 15 November, calls for better enforcement at the national level of EU laws designed to reduce pollution “from nutrients and/or other chemicals from agriculture, households and industry.” But the fight against pollution is destined to run head-on with concern about food security. There is growing pressure, in Europe and internationally, for farmers to be more productive to address tighter food supplies, rising prices and a population forecast of 9 billion – from 7 billion today – by mid-century.
https://www.euractiv.com/specialreport-agriculture/farmers-locked-food-production-v-news-516196

Sky Greens vertical green produce takes off
Singapore’s food producers may soon be locally growing a lot more fresh produce due to an innovative new vertical farm system created by Singaporean company, Sky Greens. Until now, food producers on the city-state island hub of South East Asia, have struggled for room to produce fresh fruit and vegetables in the densely populated city, opting for imports. In fact, only 7 per cent of Singapore’s fresh food is grown locally, but the new vertical farming techniques expected to bring this number to ten per cent. The Sky Greens vertical farm is a 3.2 acre urban farm that uses minimal land and resources, offering a sustainable approach to growing produce in heavily populated cities.  The A-Go-Grow vertical farm systems are protected by outdoor green houses, with the advantage of producing tropical leafy vegetables year-round. Currently the vertical farming systems can grow Chinese cabbage, spinach, lettuce and bayam. As the farm expands, Sky Greens have said that they plan to grow a diverse range of vegetables. Sky Greens have said that they would like to turn their 120 A-Go-Grow vertical farms into 300, with the support of investors. If Sky Greens are successful in creating 300 vertical farms, daily vegetable supply is expected to go from 0.5 tonnes to 2 tonnes over the next year. As well as the economic benefits of continuous production and higher yields, Sky Greens say that the vertical farming system also offers many environmental benefits. The A-Go-Gro systems use low carbon, hydraulic green technology and thus have reported very low energy costs. Similarly, Sky Greens say the vertical farming systems also offer low water costs as the vertical crops are irrigated through an “innovative flood method” that utilises recycled water.
https://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/2012/11/12/sky-greens-vertical-green-produce-takes-off.html

Forget the vodka, make mine a malt, Vladimir
It's as Russian as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and the Siberian steppe but vodka has a new challenger as the world's fourth-heaviest drinking nation's spirit of choice. This month, Beam, which owns Jim Beam and Maker's Mark, has become the latest distiller to announce that it hopes to double its whisky sales there. Beam has been a little slow off the mark though; single malts Glenfiddich and Glenivet, and blends such as Johnny Walker Black Label are already among the country's most popular drinks. Last year whisky imports grew by a staggering 48 per cent. The Western drinks cabinet favourite's new-found popularity partly stems from its novelty to Russian drinkers. A state monoply had restricted its availability since the days of the Tsar (that didn't stop KGB henchman sipping imported Ballantine's in the Soviet era) and it was only when Boris Yeltsin lifted the monopoly in 1992 that the drink took off. The average Russian drinks 15 litres of spirits a year, with vodka obviously being the most popular choice, but that hasn't stopped President Putin slapping a 30 per cent tax hike on strong liquor as part of tough crackdown on booze.
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/forget-the-vodka-make-mine-a-malt-vladimir-8349051.html

World’s first caviar vending machine opens in US
Need a caviar fix at 2 am? Billed as a world first, a caviar vending machine has opened in California for the deep-pocketed who prefer to indulge their snack cravings with caviar and blinis rather than candy bars and chips. Beverly Hills Caviar has set up the luxury snack food vending machine at the Burbank Town Centre Mall, which also dispenses all the accoutrements one needs for a gold-gilded, midnight snack. Think caviar, truffles, escargot, blinis, bottarga (fish egg sacks), oils, Mother of Pearl plates and spoons, gift boxes and gourmet salts. Beverly Hills is also home to another innovative, automated food delivery system. Earlier this year, a 24-hour ATM machine that dispenses cupcakes sent foodies on a sugar high.
https://www.themalaysianinsider.com/food/article_food/worlds-first-caviar-vending-machine-opens-in-us

 

Doubts cast over advantages for organic food

A new study hasreopened the debate on whether organic food is better for consumers.

After an examination of four decades of research comparing organic and conventional foods, scientists at Stanford University concluded that fruits and vegetables labelled as organic were no more nutritious than standard varieties. The researchers also found that there are no clear health advantages to organic meats.

While there was evidence of more pesticide residue on conventional fruits and vegetables, the report suggests they were almost always under the allowed safety limits.

“When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food,” Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the senior author of the paper, said.

“I think we were definitely surprised.”

However, many question the study’s methodology and say that while the nutritional value of the food may be similar, less pesticide was often a great motivator for the organic consumer.

While organic foods are in high demand across the US and Europe, it only makes up one per cent of Australia’s food industry.
The demand is expected to grow as consumers look to access ”high quality, locally produced fruit and vegetables,” Vegetables WA executive officer Jim Turely said.

Speaking to thewest.com, Turley went on to say that young, local growers were more environmentally conscious and were leading the push for ‘greener farming methods and higher quality fresh produce.’

Organic Federation of Australia spokesman Tim Marshall said the Stanford report was not ‘particularly surprising’ but went on to say, ‘we still do believer there are nutritional benefits.’

There’s nothing black or white about organic agriculture

Food is an emotional topic. Everyone cares about what they eat. Food often has a strong cultural, religious or even political meaning attached to it. Organic food is no different in that respect. People buy organic out of hedonistic values of pleasure and health as well as out of altruistic values of environmental sustainability, social justice and animal welfare.

In addition, organic food is also part of the political debate on how to feed the world sustainably today and into the future. Agriculture is currently one of the major threats to the environment. We know that some drastic changes in our food system are needed if we want to ensure that the many hungry people on this planet have access to sufficient nutritious food and at the same time reduce the environmental impact of agriculture.

Organic agriculture is often proposed as a solution to some of these challenges. It promises to produce food in a more environmentally friendly way and to provide accessible means of increasing yields in smallholder farming systems in developing countries.

We were therefore not surprised that our study about the yields of organic agriculture, published recently in Nature, drew quite some attention and was discussed widely in the media and blogosphere.

In this study, we conducted a meta-analysis comparing organic and conventional yields and examined how the yield difference is influenced by different site and system characteristics. The analysis basically showed that organic yields are generally lower than conventional yields, but that under some conditions organic yields can nearly match conventional.

 

The study's results. Todd Reubold, Intitute on the Environment, University of Minnesota
Click to enlarge

 

While we anticipated that the study would receive widespread attention, we were not really prepared for the wide range of interpretations of our analysis. Some people interpreted the study to imply that organic food was bad for the environment. Others concluded that we had totally missed the point, as the issue was not about yields anyway.

So, first a disclaimer: we did not attempt to solve the food problems of the world in our study. We evaluated the yield difference between organic and conventional systems using data that had been published in the scientific literature. Not more, not less.

We looked at the yield question, as we believe that yields are an important variable to consider when assessing different farming systems. In the end, whatever you might hold against current conventional agriculture, we have to acknowledge that its high yields have spared land for nature and have improved the food situation of many people.

But we acknowledge (and we do that throughout our article) that yields are only one of many factors we need to consider. Farming systems do not only have to provide food but they also have to use natural resources responsibly and to provide livelihoods to farmers. And the question of feeding the world is even more complicated than that. Feeding the world today does not depend on the total food produced: at the global aggregate scale we currently have enough food to feed everyone. It depends on where this food is produced and at what price. Hunger today is a problem of insufficient access to nutritious food and not of insufficient food availability (although feeding an additional 2-3 billion in the future may require increases in production).

 

When evaluating an agricultural system, it's important to ask how much yield you'll get. Suzie's Farm

 

So what message can people take away from our study? The real conclusion of our study is not an easy conclusion of “yes organic” or “no organic”. Although we did mention the overall average yield difference between organic and conventional systems derived from our data, this was not the main point of our study.

Our main contribution was to identify situations where organic performs well and also those situations where there is still a large yield gap to conventional systems. Instead of giving an absolute yes or no answer, we tried to paint a more nuanced picture of the complex and difficult reality of organic farming.

Our study has shown that organic agriculture requires good management practices for high yield performance; that organic performs better under rainfed conditions and weakly acidic to alkaline soils; and that its performance improves over time.

The study has also shown that nitrogen limitation is an issue in organic systems and that we need to improve organic cereal and vegetable management. Here we have two choices. We can improve organic yields by putting more money into organic research (given the little funding organic research has received to date). Or we can turn to conventional practices, which under these conditions may be more environmentally beneficial because of their land sparing effect.

An important knowledge gap we identified is the performance of organic agriculture in smallholder farming systems in developing countries. These are the places where yield increases are most needed and where organic agriculture could potentially provide an important tool for sustainable intensification of farming. Research in these systems is urgently needed.

 

Organic agriculture shows promise for increasing yields sustainably in developing countries. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

 

Organic agriculture has a role to play in sustainable food production. We can adopt organic farming methods under conditions where it performs best, try to address the identified issues in organic farming systems and we can learn from successful organic practices for conventional systems. In the end, to achieve sustainable food systems we need agriculture that can deliver certain desirable outcomes. And these desirable outcomes might require a blend of different practices, including agro-ecological methods that improve soil fertility and enhance biodiversity as well as targeted use of chemical fertilisers to ensure high crop production.

We hope that with our study we have revealed some of the many shades of grey inherent in the debate about how to feed the world sustainably. Science cannot provide a definite answer on what the best farming system is. But it is not about the correct answer or the correct choice anyway. It is about making the best choice with the information we have. And making these best choices in our complex world requires us to critically evaluate the performance of different farming systems along certain key variables, assessing the associated uncertainties and identifying knowledge gaps.

The same is true from a consumer perspective. Instead of sticking to any single mantra and eating only organic food, only local or only vegetarian, we should do what we do anyway: eat from a diversity of sources following our diverse set of values and trying to do the best with the information we have. This might include buying organic milk from large-scale organic dairy farms to avoid antibiotic residues. It might mean buying conventional apples from a local family farm in support of the local economy. It might mean buying cheap flour from highly productive conventional cereal farmers. Or it might include the organic veggie basket from our local family farm with its diverse polyculture of vegetables produced with utmost care and a large portion of idealism.

Verena Seufert is a PhD student at McGill University.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Organics could feed the world: expert

Organic food will play a large part in feeding the growing world population, according to an expert.

TM Consultants director Tim Marshall told the ABC that families with small amounts of land in developing countries will find the greatest success by embracing organic produce.

Listen to the interview on ABC Radio here.