High-yield farming techniques appear to be a less intrusive method for agricultural production and a better means of addressing the rising demand for food. According to a study that was recently published in the journal Nature Sustainability, more intensive agricultural cultivation methods may be the ‘least bad’ option when considering alternative means of production.
“Our results suggest that high-yield farming could be harnessed to meet the growing demand for food without destroying more of the natural world. However, if we are to avert mass extinction it is vital that land-efficient agriculture is linked to more wilderness being spared the plough,” said Professor of Conservation Science from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and study lead author Andrew Balmford.
Researchers analyzed data from hundreds of investigations into four sizeable food sectors which make up significant portions of the global production of each commodity such as European dairy, Latin American beef, Asian paddy rice, and European wheat. The results suggest that more intensive production methods require less land, cause less soil loss, consume less water and may result in the production of fewer pollutants.
Contrary to common belief, results from the study show that organic production is more ecologically damaging than conventional methods. An evaluation of organic farming in the European dairy sector found that organic production actually resulted in increased soil loss and takes up twice as much land as conventional dairy production while producing the same amount of milk.
“Organic systems are often considered to be far more environmentally friendly than conventional farming, but our work suggested the opposite. By using more land to produce the same yield, organic may ultimately accrue larger environmental costs,” said Dr. David Edwards, conservation expert from the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study.
Led by scientists from the University of Cambridge, the study was conducted with a team of researchers from 17 organizations from around the world including the United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Colombia, and Poland. While further study is needed on the environmental cost of farming techniques, current data suggests that high-yield methods use significantly less land and have the least amount of negative impact on the environment. The report also highlighted the need to limit agricultural expansion when employing high-yield production methods in order to achieve the highest environmental benefit.