Are Organic Standards Sufficient to Ensure Sustainable Agriculture? Lessons From New Zealand’s ARGOS and Sustainability Dashboard Projects

  •  Charles Merfield    
  •  Henrik Moller    
  •  Jon Manhire    
  •  Chris Rosin    
  •  Solis Norton    
  •  Peter Carey    
  •  Lesley Hunt    
  •  John Reid    
  •  John Fairweather    
  •  Jayson Benge    
  •  Isabelle Quellec    
  •  Hugh Campbell    
  •  David Lucock    
  •  Caroline Saunders    
  •  Catriona MacLeod    
  •  Andrew Barber    
  •  Alaric McCarthy    


Our review concludes that organic standards need to account for a broader set of criteria in order to retain claims to ‘sustainability’. Measurements of the ecological, economic and social outcomes from over 96 kiwifruit, sheep/beef and dairy farms in New Zealand between 2004 and 2012 by The Agricultural Research Group on Sustainability (ARGOS) project showed some enhanced ecosystem services from organic agriculture that will assist a “land-sharing” approach for sustainable land management. However, the efficiency of provisioning services is reduced in organic systems and this potentially undermines a “land-sparing” strategy to secure food security and ecosystem services. Other aspects of the farm operation that are not considered in the organic standards sometimes had just as much or even a greater effect on ecosystem services than restriction of chemical inputs and synthetic fertilisers. An organic farming version of the New Zealand Sustainability Dashboard will integrate organic standards and wider agricultural best practice into a broad and multidimensional sustainability assessment framework and package of learning tools. There is huge variation in performance of farms within a given farming system. Therefore improving ecosystem services depends as much on locally tuned learning and adjustments of farm practice on individual farms as on uptake of organic or Integrated Management farming system protocols.

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