Organic Vs Conventional Farming: 30 years trial by the Rodale Institute

The hallmark of a truly sustainable system is its ability to regenerate itself. When it comes to farming, the key to sustainable agriculture is healthy soil, since this is the foundation for present and future growth

With this phrase the Rodale Institute begins the presentation of one of the longest trials comparing organic to conventional farming methods. The Institute, with a rich history and background in the Organic Sector, heritage of J.Ι. Rodale, has set up a side-by-side comparison for corn and soybean that lasted 30 years. A brief presentation of their findings was released at the end of 2011, underlining that Organic Farming outperforms Conventional Farming for all investigated criteria while yields between the 2 farming systems matched for the given time period.

The results can be summarized at the following most critical points:

  • Organic yields matched conventional yields during the total 30 year period
  • Organic farm parcels outperformed conventional in years of drought
  • Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system
  • Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient
  • Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases (GHG)
  • Organic farming systems are more profitable for farmers than conventional

The farming systems trial started in 1981 to study what happens during the conversion from chemical to organic agriculture. After an initial decline in yields during the first few years, the organic system rebounded to match or surpass the conventional system.

Among other interesting points highlighted in the report, is what happens with soil. In the organic handled farm parcels soil improved its characteristics and acted as a reservoir for nutrients, decreased water leaching and had a better water holding capacity and aeration. This means less expenditure for fertilization and irrigation and certainly less danger of contamination for the underground water reservoirs. Corn and soybean in the organic farm parcels performed better against weeds, with suitable crop rotation programs in place. This was even more intense when comparing to GMO cultivations that were introduced in the trials in 2008.

At the end of the report, Rodale Institute states that: “After thirty years of a rigorous side-by-side comparison, the Rodale Institute confidently concludes organic methods are improving the quality of our food, improving the health of our soils and water, and improving the rural areas. Organic agriculture is creating more jobs, providing a livable income for farmers, and restoring people ‘s confidence in the farming community and the food system “.

You may download the FST booklet from the Rodale Institute website at

Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 from one of the pioneers of organic farming, J.I. Rodale in order to study the link between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people.  For over sixty years, the Institute has been researching the best practices of organic farming and sharing findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet.

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