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Organic Agriculture Boosts Biodiversity E-mail
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Saturday, 01 October 2005
Organic Agriculture Boosts Biodiversity


World Watch

By Danielle Nierenberg

Organic farmers can now boast that their farming methods actually protect biodiversity at every level of the food chain, from bacteria and plants to earthworms, beetles, birds, and mammals, according to a recent report from English Nature, a government-funded conservation agency, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The researchers reviewed data from 76 studies of farms in the United States, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand and compared biodiversity levels among different groups of organisms present on conventional and organic farms. More than two-thirds of the comparisons revealed that organic farming benefited wildlife more than farms using chemicals and pesticides.

Bats may be one the biggest winners. The researchers found that foraging activity among bats was higher by 84 percent on organic farms and that two species, the greater and lesser horseshoe bats, were found only on organic farms. Birds also benefit from organic agriculture, particularly farming in which both crops and livestock are raised. One species that could make a comeback is the lap-wing, whose populations in the United Kingdom have declined by 80 percent since the 1960s. Lapwings are found on all types of farms, but they thrive on mixed farms where they can nest on spring grown crops and raise their chicks on pasture.

This latest study is just one of many in recent years showing how organic agriculture can protect biodiversity, save energy, and keep soil healthy. A 21-year study by the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture, published in 2002, found that while organic crops can have lower yields (approximately 20 percent lower) than conventionally raised crops, the ecological and efficiency gains more than make up for it. The biggest bonus may be soil health: organic soils have three times as many earthworms, twice as many insects, and 40 percent more mycorrhizal fungi on plant roots than soils contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals. And in places where farmers cannot afford expensive agrochemicals, organic agriculture can actually improve yields. 

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