SvD Debate: "Wirsenius does not understand agriculture"'s image ' News
SvD Debate: "Wirsenius does not understand agriculture"

Stefan Wirsenius' claim that organic food is worse for the climate lacked support in the scientific article in Nature, where he was one of the authors. That was the reason why Ekot, DN, SVT and others who published this "news", had to go out with corrections. Although Stefan Wirsenius has been criticized for his erroneous conclusions, he now continues along the same lines and shows that he does not understand agriculture in general or organic production in particular.

The aim of organic farming is to increase the use of local resources and better close the cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus. Our ambition is, among other things, to increase the integration of animals and cultivation so that farms and regions have a better balance between supply and removal of nutrients. If one were to allow artificial fertilizer in organic production, as Stefan Wirsenius suggests, one of the cornerstones of organic farming's idea of ​​a sustainable whole would disappear. Wirsenius wants to see more nitrogen in the agricultural systems, even though more is already being supplied than the planet can handle.

Stefan Wirsenius is right that there is a harvest gap between organic and conventional grain cultivation. However, organic farming contributes many more important values ​​than just the number of tonnes of a certain product that is harvested per hectare. The intensive agriculture that Wirsenius promotes takes place at the expense of biodiversity, risks with toxins in water and soil, disturbed phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, increased concentration of animal production and high use of fossil energy and thus continued climate impact.

Even if one disregards Wirsenius' lack of a holistic perspective, there is criticism of his way of using numbers. From the Swedish Board of Agriculture's harvest statistics, on which he bases his examples, it is clear that there are very large variations in wheat harvests between different areas in Sweden. This is also explicitly pointed out by the Swedish Board of Agriculture, which writes regarding the organic harvest quota: "The quota is strongly affected by where in the country the organic and conventional cultivation is mainly located" and that one can therefore not draw general conclusions from the statistics.

Stefan Wirsenius further states that "it is not likely that the harvest gap would be different in other countries". However, in many developing countries there are reports of increased harvests with organic farming. This is largely due to the fact that ecological methods contribute to reduced erosion, increased fertility, better water management and increased biodiversity.

Wirsenius claims that it is important to cultivate the arable land as intensively as possible so that you can plant trees on the land "that is left over" and in that way tie up coal and slow down the climate effect. But planting forests on arable land is not the solution to reducing the climate impact of agriculture. When arable land is tied up by afforestation, the vulnerability of the food supply increases, as it is difficult and expensive to recreate it after a afforestation. We believe that agricultural methods must instead be developed so that more carbon is stored in the soil in connection with food production and the use of fossil energy is reduced. The organic clover grass embankment contributes precisely to this as it is both an important carbon sink and adds nitrogen to subsequent crops.

Finally, if you, like Stefan Wirsenius, see Swedish arable land as a global issue, we do not understand why you do not also see Swedish organic farming as an example for other countries to follow. Because in a global perspective, Swedish organic farming is at the forefront when it comes to developing methods and technology for increased hectare harvests without the use of artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides. What we need to approach a sustainable production and consumption of food is a conversation about the whole, not selected parts completely taken out of context.

Niels Andresen

operations manager, Ekologiska Lantbrukarna

Eva Froeman

business manager, Eco food center

Karin Lexén

Secretary-General, Naturskyddsföreningen

Charlotte Bladh André

CEO, Organic Sweden


The article was originally published on SvD Debatt 4/1 2019. 

Photo by Alex Kotomanov via Unsplash