The share of agricultural land under organic farming has increased significantly over the past ten years. But while several countries actively encourage conversion to organic farming through subsidies, its coverage remains fairly small compared with agriculture under other farming systems.
Organic farming represents less than 1% of total farming area in most OECD countries. There has been some fast growth, in Austria and Sweden for instance; among the G7 countries, organic farming has risen the most in Germany and Italy.
One attraction of organic farming is that it reduces some environmental pressures, notably from polluting chemicals. But if it is to match “conventional” production levels, a significant expansion of the organic farming area would be needed. This could reduce biodiversity if additional natural land were brought into production compared with current needs.
On the other hand, productivity might improve (thus bringing down prices) if more research expenditure was shifted from conventional to organic farming systems. In short, deciding on the merits of one farming system over another, or indeed an integrated blend of the two types, depends on comparing their relative economic and environmental costs and benefits properly.
©OECD Observer No 226/227, Summer 2001