Organic Farming Boosts Biodiversity

An extensive scientific review gives the world another reason to go organic

| October 14, 2004

Previously, organic farming was thought to only increase biodiversity levels among wildlife surrounding the farm. So 'the fact that the message is similar all the way up the food chain is new information,' says agricultural scientist Martin Entz of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.The increase in biodiversity is likely a result of a long-held organic tradition called mixed farming, which relies on varying arable and livestock crops on the same land. The researchers also concluded that organic farming aids biodiversity because fewer pesticides and inorganic fertilizers are used, and because, where there are no crops, wildlife-friendly management of habitats were adopted, such as not weeding close to hedges.In England, birds such as lapwings and bats benefited most from mixed farming. Lapwings, whose population decline of 80% since the 1960s can be traced to current farming practices, benefit from being able to nest on spring-sown crops but raise their chicks on pasture. For bats, foraging activity was up 84% on organic farms. Critics of the studies say it's impossible to tell whether the increase in biodiversity is directly related to those organic farmers who use more environmentally friendly methods. It is also unclear whether switching to a few organic practices by conventional farmers would lead to the same increases in biodiversity.
-- Elizabeth Dwoskin

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