ReviewAGRICULTURE

Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture

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Science Advances  10 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1602638
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602638

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Abstract

Organic agriculture is often proposed as a more sustainable alternative to current conventional agriculture. We assess the current understanding of the costs and benefits of organic agriculture across multiple production, environmental, producer, and consumer dimensions. Organic agriculture shows many potential benefits (including higher biodiversity and improved soil and water quality per unit area, enhanced profitability, and higher nutritional value) as well as many potential costs including lower yields and higher consumer prices. However, numerous important dimensions have high uncertainty, particularly the environmental performance when controlling for lower organic yields, but also yield stability, soil erosion, water use, and labor conditions. We identify conditions that influence the relative performance of organic systems, highlighting areas for increased research and policy support.

Keywords
  • organic agriculture
  • sustainability

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