Yield and Economic Performance of Organic and Conventional Cotton-Based Farming Systems – Results from a Field Trial in India

Dionys Forster, Christian Andres , Rajeev Verma, Christine Zundel, Monika M. Messmer, Paul Mäder - PLoS ONE 11

Farm Table says:

Farmers might find this helpful regarding how the higher input costs (fertilizer, pesticides) in the affects the agronomic and economic performance of the different farming systems. However, some might change in the near future, as labor costs in Indian agriculture and maybe for some other parts of the globe are on the rise.

The debate on the relative benefits of conventional and organic farming systems has in recent time gained significant interest. Developing more sustainable farming practices on a large scale is of utmost importance.

This study presents agronomic and economic data from the conversion phase (2007–2010) of a farming systems comparison trial on a Vertisol soil in Madhya Pradesh, central India. A cotton-soybean-wheat crop rotation under biodynamic, organic and conventional (with and without Bt cotton) management was investigated.

Averaged across all crops, conventional farming systems achieved significantly higher gross margins in cycle 1 (+29%), whereas in cycle 2 gross margins in organic farming systems were significantly higher (+25%) due to lower variable production costs but similar yields. Soybean gross margin was significantly higher in the organic system (+11%) across the four harvest years compared to the conventional systems.

Results show that organic soybean productivity can be similarly high as in conventional systems at lower input levels, which can make organic soybean production – as part of cotton-based crop rotations – more profitable. Future research will bring further insights on the agronomic and economic performance of the different farming systems after the conversion period, thus providing indications on the long-term sustainability across the whole crop rotation. Furthermore, the effects of the farming systems on biodiversity, soil fertility, other ecological co-benefits such as climate change mitigation by means of C sequestration, and product quality need to be elucidated.

Results suggest that an organic soybean production is a viable option for smallholder farmers under the prevailing semi-arid conditions in India. Future research needs to elucidate the long-term productivity and profitability, particularly of cotton and wheat, and the ecological impact of the different farming systems.

2013 - India - Dionys Forster, Christian Andres , Rajeev Verma, Christine Zundel, Monika M. Messmer, Paul Mäder - PLoS ONE 11
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