Does organic farming benefit biodiversity?

D.G. Hole , A.J. Perkins , J.D. Wilson , I.H. Alexander , P.V. Grice , A.D. Evans -

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

Although based in the United Kingdom, this paper is relevant because the majority of the 76 studies reviewed in this paper clearly demonstrate that species abundance and/ or richness, across a wide-range of taxa, tend to be higher on organic farms than on locally representative conventional farms. And the approach providing financial incentives to farmers to undertake management practices on their respective areas or even country is a good way to encourage them to cooperate and contribute to the success of agricultural programs.

The intensification and expansion of modern agriculture are amongst the greatest current threats to worldwide biodiversity. Over the last quarter of the 20th century, dramatic declines in both range and abundance of many species associated with farmland have been reported in Europe, leading to growing concern over the sustainability of current intensive farming practices. Purportedly sustainable farming systems such as organic farming are now seen by many as a potential solution to this continued loss of biodiversity and receive substantial support in the form of subsidy payments through EU and national government legislation.

This paper assesses:

• The impacts on biodiversity of organic farming, relative to conventional agriculture, through a review of comparative studies of the two systems, to determine whether it can deliver on the biodiversity benefits its proponents claim.

• It identifies a wide range of taxa, including birds and mammals, invertebrates and arable flora, that benefit from organic management through increases in abundance and/or species richness.

• It also highlights three broad management practices:

  • prohibition/reduced use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilizers;
  • sympathetic management of non-cropped habitats;
  • and preservation of mixed farming) that are largely intrinsic (but not exclusive) to organic farming, and that is particularly beneficial for farmland wildlife.

However, the review also draws attention to four key issues:

  • It remains unclear whether a holistic whole-farm approach (i.e. organic) provides greater benefits to biodiversity than carefully targeted prescriptions applied to relatively small areas of cropped and/or non-cropped habitats within conventional agriculture (i.e. agri-environment schemes);
  • Many comparative studies encounter methodological problems, limiting their ability to draw quantitative conclusions;
  • Our knowledge of the impacts of organic farming in pastoral and upland agriculture is limited;
  • There remains a pressing need for longitudinal, system-level studies in order to address these issues and to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the impacts of organic farming, before a full appraisal of its potential role in biodiversity conservation in agroecosystems can be made.
2004 - United Kingdom - D.G. Hole , A.J. Perkins , J.D. Wilson , I.H. Alexander , P.V. Grice , A.D. Evans -
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