Do Agribusiness Giants Fear Organics?

The CEO of Syngenta, the Swiss agribusiness producer of pesticides and seeds, denies that the company feels threatened by the organic movement and dismisses organic farming claims about comparable agricultural productivity and environmental benefits.

December 16, 2009 | Source: Triple Pundit | by Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Last month, Michael Mack, the chief executive of Syngenta, said organic farming takes up 30 percent more land than non-organic farming for the same yield. Syngenta is a . “If the whole planet were to suddenly switch to organic farming tomorrow, it would be an ecological disaster,” he said.

In terms of yields, he continued, organic food is the “productive equivalent of driving an S.U.V.” Mack mentioned what he believes is the “mistaken belief that natural is always better.” Pesticides, he added, “have been proven safe and effective and absolutely not harmful to the environment or to humans” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Mack “dismissed the notion that Syngenta felt threatened by the organic movement,” according to the New York Times. Syngenta sold almost $12 billion in seeds, including genetically modified seeds, and what the company terms ‘crop protection,’ in other words, herbicide, fungicide and insecticides. Mack claimed his only motive in criticizing organic farming is to make people aware of the “limitation of organic food.” He said, “It underplays the significance of agricultural productivity.”

Studies say organic farming yields same as conventional methods

A 22 year farming trial study, the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial compared organic farms with conventional farms, and found that the yield of corn and soybeans were the same. However, organic farming uses 30 percent less energy, less water, and no pesticides, thus it has environmental benefits. Corn yields were about one-third less during the first four years of the study, but eventually organic farming produced higher yields. During the drought years of 1988 to 1998 corn yields were 22 percent higher on organic farms, namely because the soil in organic farms continued to improve.

Organic farming has another environmental benefit, according to the study: it absorbs and retains carbon in the soil. The carbon in the soil of organic farms increased by 15 to 28 percent, equal to removing 3,500 pounds of carbon per hectare from the atmosphere.

Lead author, David Pimentel, a Cornell University professor of ecology and agriculture, said, “Organic farming offers real advantages for such crops as corn and soybeans.”

“Organic farming approaches for these crops not only use an average of 30 percent less fossil energy but also conserve more water in the soil, induce less erosion, maintain soil quality and conserve more biological resources than conventional farming does,” Pimentel said.

A University of Michigan study found that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food per farm in developing countries as conventional farming. Ivette Perfecto, professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, said, “My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture.”

“We were struck by how much food the organic farmers would produce,” Perfecto said. “Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies-all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food,” she added.