SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Industrial agriculture

93

People believe they experience the world objectively, but research continually demonstrates that beliefs influence perception. Emerging research indicates that beliefs influence the experience of eating. In three studies, we test whether beliefs about how animals are raised can influence the experience of eating meat. Samples of meat were paired with descriptions of animals raised on factory farms or raised on humane farms. Importantly, the meat samples in both conditions were identical. However, participants experienced the samples differently: meat paired with factory farm descriptions looked, smelled, and tasted less pleasant. Even basic properties of flavor were influenced: factory farmed samples tasted more salty and greasy. Finally, actual behavior was influenced: participants consumed less when samples were paired with factory farm descriptions. These findings demonstrate that the experience of eating is not determined solely by physical properties of stimuli-beliefs also shape experience.

Concepts: Farm, Livestock, Wind farm, Industrial agriculture

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Numerous reports have emphasized the need for major changes in the global food system: agriculture must meet the twin challenge of feeding a growing population, with rising demand for meat and high-calorie diets, while simultaneously minimizing its global environmental impacts. Organic farming—a system aimed at producing food with minimal harm to ecosystems, animals or humans—is often proposed as a solution. However, critics argue that organic agriculture may have lower yields and would therefore need more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional farms, resulting in more widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss, and thus undermining the environmental benefits of organic practices. Here we use a comprehensive meta-analysis to examine the relative yield performance of organic and conventional farming systems globally. Our analysis of available data shows that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rain-fed legumes and perennials on weak-acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions—that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others it at present cannot. To establish organic agriculture as an important tool in sustainable food production, the factors limiting organic yields need to be more fully understood, alongside assessments of the many social, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming systems.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Green Revolution, Crop rotation, Agroecology, Industrial agriculture

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Organic farming practices have been promoted as, inter alia, reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture. This meta-analysis systematically analyses published studies that compare environmental impacts of organic and conventional farming in Europe. The results show that organic farming practices generally have positive impacts on the environment per unit of area, but not necessarily per product unit. Organic farms tend to have higher soil organic matter content and lower nutrient losses (nitrogen leaching, nitrous oxide emissions and ammonia emissions) per unit of field area. However, ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems. Organic systems had lower energy requirements, but higher land use, eutrophication potential and acidification potential per product unit. The variation within the results across different studies was wide due to differences in the systems compared and research methods used. The only impacts that were found to differ significantly between the systems were soil organic matter content, nitrogen leaching, nitrous oxide emissions per unit of field area, energy use and land use. Most of the studies that compared biodiversity in organic and conventional farming demonstrated lower environmental impacts from organic farming. The key challenges in conventional farming are to improve soil quality (by versatile crop rotations and additions of organic material), recycle nutrients and enhance and protect biodiversity. In organic farming, the main challenges are to improve the nutrient management and increase yields. In order to reduce the environmental impacts of farming in Europe, research efforts and policies should be targeted to developing farming systems that produce high yields with low negative environmental impacts drawing on techniques from both organic and conventional systems.

Concepts: Agriculture, Soil, Nitrogen, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Humus, Crop rotation, Industrial agriculture

27

The aim of the study was to determine the occurrence of gastrointestinal parasites in slaughter rabbits managed in small scale farms and under industrial farming system. The research material included intestines and livers of rabbits slaughtered between years 2007 and 2011. The rabbit carcasses submitted to parasitological examination had passed the sanitary veterinary inspection as fit for human consumption. The samples were collected in spring and autumn seasons. The studies showed no effect of a rabbit farming system, season of the year, or differences in an invasion type in each year. The parasitological test recognized exclusively mixed infestation diagnosed in 79.56 % of the studied animals. Parasitological evaluation of the rabbit internal organs identified the invasions of coccidia (78.83 %), nematoda (16.42 %), cestoda (0.72 %), and cysticerci Cysticercus pisiformis (4.74 %). Coccidian invasions found in intestines were dominant, and their prevalence reached 56.48 %, while the hepatic coccidian extensity was markedly lower, i.e., 3.34 % of the examined rabbits. Invasions were characterized by low intensity. The studies recognized invasions of nematoda (Obeliscoides cuniculi, Graphidium strigosum, Trichostrongylus sp., Strongyloides sp., Passalurus ambiguus, Trichuris leporis), cestoda (Mosgovoyia pectinata), and cysticerci C. pisiformis.

Concepts: Parasites, Liver, Organ, Autumn, Gallbladder, Farm, Organs, Industrial agriculture

11

To promote global food and ecosystem security, several innovative farming systems have been identified that better balance multiple sustainability goals. The most rapidly growing and contentious of these systems is organic agriculture. Whether organic agriculture can continue to expand will likely be determined by whether it is economically competitive with conventional agriculture. Here, we examined the financial performance of organic and conventional agriculture by conducting a meta-analysis of a global dataset spanning 55 crops grown on five continents. When organic premiums were not applied, benefit/cost ratios (-8 to -7%) and net present values (-27 to -23%) of organic agriculture were significantly lower than conventional agriculture. However, when actual premiums were applied, organic agriculture was significantly more profitable (22-35%) and had higher benefit/cost ratios (20-24%) than conventional agriculture. Although premiums were 29-32%, breakeven premiums necessary for organic profits to match conventional profits were only 5-7%, even with organic yields being 10-18% lower. Total costs were not significantly different, but labor costs were significantly higher (7-13%) with organic farming practices. Studies in our meta-analysis accounted for neither environmental costs (negative externalities) nor ecosystem services from good farming practices, which likely favor organic agriculture. With only 1% of the global agricultural land in organic production, our findings suggest that organic agriculture can continue to expand even if premiums decline. Furthermore, with their multiple sustainability benefits, organic farming systems can contribute a larger share in feeding the world.

Concepts: Agriculture, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Crop rotation, Agroecology, Industrial agriculture, Permaculture, Wildculture

10

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Organic farming is based on the concept of working ‘with nature’ instead of against it; however, compared with conventional farming, organic farming reportedly has lower productivity. Ideally, the goal should be to narrow this yield gap. In this review, we specifically discuss the feasibility of new breeding techniques (NBTs) for rewilding, a process involving the reintroduction of properties from the wild relatives of crops, as a method to close the productivity gap. The most efficient methods of rewilding are based on modern biotechnology techniques, which have yet to be embraced by the organic farming movement. Thus, the question arises of whether the adoption of such methods is feasible, not only from a technological perspective, but also from conceptual, socioeconomic, ethical, and regulatory perspectives.

Concepts: Agriculture, Biotechnology, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Green Revolution, Crop rotation, Industrial agriculture, Organic movement

6

The debate on the relative benefits of conventional and organic farming systems has in recent time gained significant interest. So far, global agricultural development has focused on increased productivity rather than on a holistic natural resource management for food security. Thus, developing more sustainable farming practices on a large scale is of utmost importance. However, information concerning the performance of farming systems under organic and conventional management in tropical and subtropical regions is scarce. This study presents agronomic and economic data from the conversion phase (2007-2010) of a farming systems comparison trial on a Vertisol soil in Madhya Pradesh, central India. A cotton-soybean-wheat crop rotation under biodynamic, organic and conventional (with and without Bt cotton) management was investigated. We observed a significant yield gap between organic and conventional farming systems in the 1(st) crop cycle (cycle 1: 2007-2008) for cotton (-29%) and wheat (-27%), whereas in the 2(nd) crop cycle (cycle 2: 2009-2010) cotton and wheat yields were similar in all farming systems due to lower yields in the conventional systems. In contrast, organic soybean (a nitrogen fixing leguminous plant) yields were marginally lower than conventional yields (-1% in cycle 1, -11% in cycle 2). Averaged across all crops, conventional farming systems achieved significantly higher gross margins in cycle 1 (+29%), whereas in cycle 2 gross margins in organic farming systems were significantly higher (+25%) due to lower variable production costs but similar yields. Soybean gross margin was significantly higher in the organic system (+11%) across the four harvest years compared to the conventional systems. Our results suggest that organic soybean production is a viable option for smallholder farmers under the prevailing semi-arid conditions in India. Future research needs to elucidate the long-term productivity and profitability, particularly of cotton and wheat, and the ecological impact of the different farming systems.

Concepts: Agriculture, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Crops, Crop rotation, Industrial agriculture, Green manure, Biodynamic agriculture

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China’s croplands have experienced drastic changes in management practices, such as fertilization, tillage, and residue treatments, since the 1980s. There is an ongoing debate about the impact of these changes on soil organic carbon (SOC) and its implications. Here we report results from an extensive study that provided direct evidence of cropland SOC sequestration in China. Based on the soil sampling locations recorded by the Second National Soil Survey of China in 1980, we collected 4,060 soil samples in 2011 from 58 counties that represent the typical cropping systems across China. Our results showed that across the country, the average SOC stock in the topsoil (0-20 cm) increased from 28.6 Mg C ha-1 in 1980 to 32.9 Mg C ha-1 in 2011, representing a net increase of 140 kg C ha-1 year-1 However, the SOC change differed among the major agricultural regions: SOC increased in all major agronomic regions except in Northeast China. The SOC sequestration was largely attributed to increased organic inputs driven by economics and policy: while higher root biomass resulting from enhanced crop productivity by chemical fertilizers predominated before 2000, higher residue inputs following the large-scale implementation of crop straw/stover return policy took over thereafter. The SOC change was negatively related to N inputs in East China, suggesting that the excessive N inputs, plus the shallowness of plow layers, may constrain the future C sequestration in Chinese croplands. Our results indicate that cropland SOC sequestration can be achieved through effectively manipulating economic and policy incentives to farmers.

Concepts: Agriculture, Soil, Nitrogen, Cotton, Humus, Rural economics, Industrial agriculture, Land management

5

The increased use of pesticides and tillage intensification is known to negatively affect biodiversity. Changes in these agricultural practices such as herbicide and tillage reduction have variable effects among taxa, especially at the top of the trophic network including insectivorous bats. Very few studies compared the effects of agricultural practices on such taxa, and overall, only as a comparison of conventional versus organic farming without accurately accounting for underlying practices, especially in conventional where many alternatives exist. Divergent results founded in these previous studies could be driven by this lack of clarification about some unconsidered practices inside both conventional and organic systems. We simultaneously compared, over whole nights, bat activity on contiguous wheat fields of one organic and three conventional farming systems located in an intensive agricultural landscape. The studied organic fields (OT) used tillage (i.e., inversion of soil) without chemical inputs. In studied conventional fields, differences consisted of the following: tillage using few herbicides (T), conservation tillage (i.e., no inversion of soil) using few herbicides (CT), and conservation tillage using more herbicide (CTH), to control weeds. Using 64 recording sites (OT = 12; T = 21; CT = 13; CTH = 18), we sampled several sites per system placed inside the fields each night. We showed that bat activity was always higher in OT than in T systems for two (Pipistrellus kuhlii and Pipistrellus pipistrellus) of three species and for one (Pipistrellus spp.) of two genera, as well as greater species richness. The same results were found for the CT versus T system comparison. CTH system showed higher activity than T for only one genus (Pipistrellus spp.). We did not detect any differences between OT and CT systems, and CT showed higher activity than CTH system for only one species (Pipistrellus kuhlii). Activity in OT of Pipistrellus spp. was overall 3.6 and 9.3 times higher than CTH and T systems, respectively, and 6.9 times higher in CT than T systems. Our results highlight an important benefit of organic farming and contrasted effects in conventional farming. That there were no differences detected between the organic and one conventional system is a major result. This demonstrates that even if organic farming is presently difficult to implement and requires a change of economic context for farmers, considerable and easy improvements in conventional farming are attainable, while maintaining yields and approaching the ecological benefits of organic methods.

Concepts: Agriculture, Bat, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Surface runoff, Industrial agriculture, Tillage, Permaculture