Organic agriculture outperforms conventional agriculture across several sustainability metrics due, in part, to more widespread use of agroecological practices. However, increased entry of large-scale farms into the organic sector has prompted concerns about ‘conventionalization’ through input substitution, agroecosystem simplification and other changes. We examined this shift in organic agriculture by estimating the use of agroecological practices across farm size and comparing indicators of conventionalization. Results from our national survey of 542 organic fruit and vegetable farmers show that fewer agroecological practices were used on large farms, which also exhibited the greatest degree of conventionalization. Intercropping, insectary plantings and border plantings were at least 1.4 times more likely to be used on small (0.4–39 cropland ha) compared with large (≥405 cropland ha) farms, whereas reduced tillage was less likely and riparian buffers were more likely on small compared with medium (40–404 cropland ha) farms. Because decisions about management practices can drive environmental sustainability outcomes, policy should support small and medium farms that already use agroecological practices while encouraging increased use of agroecological practices on larger farms.
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The national farmer survey data that were used in the analyses are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. These data are not publicly available as they contain information that could compromise research participant privacy or consent. Data from the USDA NASS 2017 Census of Agriculture were also used to support the findings of this study, and they are publicly available at https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017.
The R code used to generate the results is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
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This research was conducted as part of the project ‘Adoption of Agroecological Farming Practices in Specialty Crops: Incentives, Barriers, and Outcomes’, funded by the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability (and awarded to M.R.R. and S.G., along with R.B., R.B.K., T.B., M.I.G., A.K.H., J.L. and A.G.P.). J.L. acknowledges the financial support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank the farmers who participated in the questionnaire pilot study and interviews, as well as those who completed the survey. We also thank S. Parry, E. Mudrak and L. Johnson at the Cornell University Statistical Consulting Unit for their assistance with statistical analyses; and J. MacDonald at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service for his assistance with data compilation.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Liebert, J., Benner, R., Bezner Kerr, R. et al. Farm size affects the use of agroecological practices on organic farms in the United States. Nat. Plants 8, 897–905 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-022-01191-1