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Sci Adv. 2017 Mar 10;3(3):e1602638. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1602638. eCollection 2017 Mar.

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

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1
Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, 6476 North West Marine Drive, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z2, Canada.; Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.

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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