Organic versus conventional comparisons: A DEVIL without details


[MUSIC] [CELL PHONE RINGING] Hello this is Michel. Hey Michel, how you doing man? Hey Eric, good to hear from you. I’m good. How
are you doing? Oh pretty good. Um.. hey, you got a minute? Yeah, sure what’s up? Well, hey the reason I was calling was I wanted to talk about a concern I’ve got with some
stuff I see in the literature that’s comparing
organic and conventional ag. What do you mean? Well the other day I came across this organic
versus conventional comparison paper that’s
focused on soil microbiology. At first it seemed really interesting because soil
microbiology is a really important part of soil
management. But…. the organic versus conventional comparison
was completely meaningless because there’s no information on the
management practices that were used in either the organic or the conventional plots. You know this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this type of thing being left out of a paper. Yeah, I’ve seen that too. You know I often make
organic versus conventional comparisions from our long-term farming systems project. But what I try to do is always be very specific
about how we manage the various systems so that the reader can understand what factors are
leading to the differences we see. Yeah that makes a lot of sense. You know in our long-term trial we’ve got 8
different organic systems. Some of them are what I’d call well-managed
organic systems. You know with frequent cover crops between our
vegetables and other systems are real duds. They’re fallow most winters. They have really low vegetable yields and they’ve got terrible soil quality. But they’re all certified organic. Ah, yeah, I know. Ah, your experiment is a great
illustration of that point… that not all organic systems are equal You know not all conventional systems are the
same either. For example conventional no-till versus conventional tilled systems can be very
different in terms of soil quality. I think it’s important to emphasize how much
diversity there is in organic and conventional
systems. The details are everything. You’re right. You know what this actually makes
me I think? Uh oh. What’s that? Well, I think this year when we… when we go to the
agronomy meeting in Long Beach, I think we ought to give a presentation where we highlight some of the problems with
making organic versus conventional comparisons. Hey, that’s a good idea. We could use our experience managing long-term
systems studies in California and Maryland to highlight why the details are important. That’s a great idea. So….. you know… what do you think our take
home message would be? Ah…. let me see? First we should probably
acknowledge that were not the first to make this
point. And secondly stress that researchers need to be
very careful to provide enough details on specific
management practices within both organic and conventional systems. So what type of specifics do you think should
always be provided? I’ll start writing them down as we list em. Soil type That sounds good. Probably crop rotation. Yeah crop rotation for sure. Aaaa…. what kind of fertilizer inputs, especially if
they’re animal manures or otherwise. Probably irrigation management that’s critical in
California Yeah irrigation can be important in Maryland too. How about tillage. Yeah that’s a good start. You know an associated issue is that sometimes
differences between conventional and organic systems are
just due to specific management practices like whether a cover crop is used or not in one
system and not the other. That’s right I mean that’s like in our long-term trial.
Whether or not a cover crops used or not is really the defining difference between our good and our
bad systems. Um… you know what I was thinking Michel is we can actually take our presentation a step further if
we do this at the conference and we can do by video and then we could leave a
lot of time you know to discuss… ah kind of get feedback from the audience and see
what they thought about this issue. Yeah I guess that might work… it is after all an
organic group. Who knows maybe it will help our colleagues
remember why these comparisons are devil a
without details. I think that’s a good idea because you know people like
to watch videos. Yeah also didn’t you tell me that a scientist that’s
become a filmmaker is the closing keynote speaker
at this conference? Oh yeah, that’s ah… what’s his name… Randy
Olson. He wrote a really interesting book called… um…
‘Don’t be such a Scientist” Ah.. you know it’s about how we can do a better
job of communicating our science. And making a fun video should be a good way to
do that. You bet man. Hey, look out Hollywood, here comes
the scientists. [MUSIC]

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