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Organic farms have better fruit, soil, environment, study finds

Sept. 2, 2010
Courtesy of Public Library of Science
and World Science staff

Com­pared to con­ven­tion­al straw­ber­ry farms, or­gan­ic ones con­sist­ently pro­duce fruit that's equal or bet­ter in taste and nu­tri­tion, while leaving health­i­er and more ge­net­ic­ally di­verse soil, a study has found. 

Soil sci­ent­ist John Reganold of Wash­ing­ton State Uni­vers­ity and col­leagues con­ducted the ana­lysis com­par­ing con­ven­tion­al and or­gan­ic farms in Cal­i­for­nia.

“Our find­ings have glob­al im­plica­t­ions and ad­vance what we know about the sus­tain­abil­ity ben­e­fits of or­gan­ic farm­ing sys­tems,” said Reganold, whose find­ings were pub­lished Tues­day in the re­search jour­nal PLoS One. “We al­so show you can have high qual­ity, healthy pro­duce with­out re­sort­ing to an ar­se­nal of pes­ti­cides.”

The study is among the most com­pre­hen­sive of its kind, he said. His group an­a­lyzed 31 chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal soil char­ac­ter­is­tics, soil DNA, and the taste, nu­tri­tion and qual­ity of three straw­ber­ry va­ri­eties on more than two doz­en com­mer­cial field­s—13 con­ven­tion­al and 13 or­gan­ic.

Cal­i­for­nia is home to 90 per­cent of the na­tion's straw­ber­ries and the cen­ter of an on­go­ing de­bate about the use of soil fu­mi­gants. Con­ven­tion­al farms in the study used me­thyl bro­mide, an ozone-depleting com­pound. Me­thyl bro­mide is slat­ed to be re­placed soon by me­thyl io­dide, over the protests of a bevy of health ad­vo­cates, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and sci­ent­ists, in­clud­ing more than 50 No­bel lau­re­ates, who call the chem­i­cal highly to­xic.

In Ju­ly, Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Di­anne Fe­in­stein asked the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agen­cy to re­con­sid­er its ap­prov­al of me­thyl io­dide.

On al­most eve­ry ma­jor in­di­ca­tor, Reganold said his team found the or­gan­ic fields and fruit were equal to or bet­ter than their con­ven­tion­al coun­ter­parts. The or­gan­ic straw­ber­ries al­so had a long­er shelf life, ac­cord­ing to the sci­ent­ists, who used anon­y­mous testers who eval­u­ate the berries. A DNA anal­y­sis found the or­gan­ic­ally man­aged soils had dra­mat­ic­ally more ge­net­ic di­vers­ity, a meas­ure of re­sil­ience to stress and abil­ity to car­ry out es­sen­tial pro­cesses.


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Compared to conventional strawberry farms, organic strawberry farms consistently produce fruit that's equal or better in taste and nutrition, a new study has found. The research, conducted in California, also concluded that the soil on organic farms is healthier and more genetically diverse. Soil scientist John Reganold of Washington State University and colleagues conducted the study comparing conventional farms to their organic counterparts. “Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems,“ said Reganold, whose findings were published Tuesday in the research journal Plos One. “We also show you can have high quality, healthy produce without resorting to an arsenal of pesticides.“ The study is among the most comprehensive of its kind, he said. His group analyzed 31 chemical and biological soil characteristics, soil DNA, and the taste, nutrition and quality of three strawberry varieties on more than two dozen commercial fields—13 conventional and 13 organic. All farms were in California, home to 90 percent of the nation's strawberries and the center of an ongoing debate about the use of soil fumigants. Conventional farms in the study used methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting compound. Methyl bromide is slated to be replaced soon by the toxic methyl iodide, over the protests of a bevy of health advocates, environmentalists and scientists, including more than 50 Nobel laureates In July, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its approval of methyl iodide. On almost every major indicator, Reganold said his team found the organic fields and fruit were equal to or better than their conventional counterparts. The organic strawberries also had a longer shelf life, according to the scientists, who used anonymous testers who evaluate the berries. A DNA analysis found the organically managed soils had dramatically more genetic diversity, a measure of resilience to stress and ability to carry out essential processes.