In a side-by-side comparison of organically grown and conventionally grown potatoes by researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, organic spuds were shown to have higher production costs per acre and far lower yields than conventional potatoes.
In carefully monitored field tests in 1990, organic farming yielded an average of 21,200 pounds of potatoes per acre (over three tested varieties) while conventional farming methods yielded 32,800 pounds per acre. In overall production costs, organic potatoes cost $1074 per acre to grow while conventionally grown potatoes averaged $928 per acre.
The disparity between organic and conventional potatoes is seen most vividly in the break-even prices that potato farmers would be required to ask for their produce. At market, farmers who raised organic Norland potatoes needed prices 228% higher than farmers selling conventional Norlands to break even. Organic Russets need to be priced 24% higher than conventional Russets while organic Superiors had to cost 90% more than conventional Superiors.
But why pay more? Official U.S. Department of Agriculture policy on organic produce states that it is no more nutritious, more healthful, or safer that conventional. And because organic is less productive per acre, its ‘ecological’ value is questionable. If more farmland is needed to grow less food, the net result is that the organic grower squanders finite natural resources to harvest foods with no measurable improvement in benefits. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control cautions that organic produce has a greater chance of E.coli infection.
It stands to reason the current push by activists to hype organic foods is really about increasing market share to cushion organic vendors’ diminished supply and higher prices. But as the Wisconsin field tests bear out, those making the “case” for organic are handling a hot potato!