Meet Yichao Rui, Research Director of the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, the longest-running comparison of organic and conventional agricultural systems in North America. Which makes Yichao the perfect person to quiz on the power of organic--and why healthy resilient soil is the foundation of good agriculture.
Q: What does going to work look like for you?
A: To me, going to work every day is a personal regeneration – reconnecting myself with mother nature. My daily work includes investigating the fundamental mechanisms of plant-microbe-soil interactions, finding better ways of producing food to improve the health of the planet and communicating research findings with growers and the general public. Rodale Institute’s mission is to improve the health of people and planet through rigorous research, education and outreach. We spare no effort to achieve that goal.
Q: You have 40 years of data on organic systems. What does it show?
A: Our 40 years’ data show that organic can feed the world while improving environmental quality. Well-managed organic systems can produce competitive yields, with 45% less energy and 40% fewer carbon emissions, compared to the conventional chemical systems. In years of drought, organic systems yield 30% more than conventional systems. Of course, organic systems also have no residual pesticides and less nitrate leaching to ground water than conventional systems. In addition, soil organic matter increased steadily in organic systems, reflecting the climate change mitigation potential of regenerative organic agriculture by sequestering carbon in degraded cropping soils due to conventional agriculture.
Q: So why do we always hear organic can’t feed the world?
A: Regenerative organic agriculture supports and utilizes rather than suppresses soil biology. Conventional agriculture often ignores soil biology and relies on chemicals for fertility and weed control, which can disrupt soil life and biogeochemical cycling. Soil biology plays a key role in maintaining active and balanced carbon and nutrient cycling. By providing diverse and sustained food sources to soil microbes and promoting efficient plant-microbe-soil interactions, regenerative organic agriculture can lead to biologically active and rich soils which underpin sustainable and resilient food production.