Integrating the environmental and economic consequences of converting to organic agriculture: Evidence from a case study
Cobb D., Feber R., Hopkins A., Stockdale L., O'Riordan T., Clements B., Firbank L., Goulding K., Jarvis S., Macdonald D.
In the current debate about the future of food quality, the merits of organic agriculture are frequently championed, but few studies have sought to integrate the changes in soil conditions, biodiversity and socio-economic welfare linked to the conversion from non-organic to organic production. This article aims to undertake this approach with respect to one case study. Its conclusions may not be representative for all organic conversions, but the findings are of relevance at a time of debate over changing patterns of subsidies and other incentives in agricultural policy. The study showed that there were demonstrable differences in overall environmental conditions in the comparison of organic and non-organic farming, with field evidence of increased species diversity, and an eventual improvement in the profitability of the organic farming regime. The broad conclusion is that there are definite environmental and economic advantages arising from organic agriculture that are not fully reflected in the present pattern of agricultural incentives. The study also showed that variations in farm management practice strongly influence the notion of on-farm and off-farm environmental consequences. The implications of these findings for the future of sustainable agriculture and for interdisciplinary science are also discussed.