Environmental Aspects and Biodiversity

The environmental argument holds that conventional agriculture is rapidly depleting natural resources, particularly fossil fuels and freshwater, and seriously pol luting soil, water, and air.

Despite criticism of OF, decreased environmental impact through use of organic production methods is mostly beneficial. Sustainable farming systems such as OF are now seen by many as a potential solution to continued worldwide loss of biodiversity of many spe cies associated with farmland. A wide range of taxa (including birds and mammals, invertebrates, and arable flora) have been identified that benefit from organic management through an increase in abun dance and/or species richness. It also highlights three broad management practices (prohibition/reduced use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilizers; sym pathetic management of noncropped habitats; and preservation of mixed farming) that are largely intrin sic (but not exclusive) to OF, and that are particularly beneficial for farmland wildlife. Enhanced soil fertility and higher floral and faunal diversity were found in OF experiments.

However, it is also necessary to realize other key issues: (1) it remains unclear whether a 'holistic' whole farm approach (i.e., organic) provides greater benefits to biodiversity than carefully targeted prescriptions applied to relatively small areas of cropped and/or noncropped habitats within conventional agriculture (i.e., agroenvironment schemes); (2) many comparative studies encounter methodological problems, limiting their ability to draw quantitative conclusions; (3) our knowledge of the effects of OF in pastoral and upland agriculture is limited; (4) there remains a pressing need for longitudinal, system level studies in order to address these issues and to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the effects of OF, before a full appraisal of its potential role in biodiversity conservation in agroecosystems can be made.

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