Organic Farming: What is Technology’s Role?

A recent post on Software Advice entitled Organic Farmers: Can They Be Tech Savvy?” by Mr. Hunter Richards serves as a reminder of why one interested in sustainable farming mustn’t instinctively cringe at the thought of new technology and agriculture.

As the blog states, organic food has taken off as an industry; the Organic Trade Associations estimated that national sales of organic food and beverages total $24.8 billion annually in comparison to $1 billion just 20 years ago. Organic fruits and vegetables, for example, now represent 11.4% of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales. Naturally, one would think that increased demand would push producers to seek efficiency – that is, doing more with less.

Combine food, not just organic food, with demand and, well, you have yourself a headline.

A special report by The Economist, The 9 billionpeople question, introduces the question of if there will be enough food to go around come 2050. But the report focuses on industrial agriculture – since, “traditional and organic farming could feed Europeans and Americans well. It cannot feed the world.”

An entire chapter highlights efficiency. How does one increase yield by 1.5% a year over the next 40 years to feed mankind? The article details three ways: narrowing the gap between the worst and best producers, spreading the “lifestock revolution” (expanding the CAFO system because – “battery chickens” do a better job than traditional methods), and taking advantage of new plant technologies (marker-assisted breeding seems to be the key technology).

Additionally, The New York Times recently asked seven professionals Is the World Producing Enough Food?” Multiple authors were in agreement that meeting the greater per capita food consumption could be met by increasing yields through increasing technologies. Dr. Kenneth Cassman, a professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska, mentioned the current weakness in yield comes partially from “a substantial decrease in funding of research to enhance yields by methods other than biotechnology.”

These three articles all mention new technology’s potential to meet increasing food demand. Although The Economist focused on industrial agriculture and technological improvements, Mr. Richard’s article is a unique reminder that those involved in “organic food,” who some may assume are defined by their aversion to technology, also can crave increasing their efficiency through technology. Read More >