The Transition from Conventional to Low-Input or Organic Farming Systems: Soil Biology, Soil Chemistry, Soil Physics, Energy Utilization, Economics, and Risk

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $153,962.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Steven Temple
University of California

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, safflower, sorghum (milo), wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: beans, tomatoes


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health


    A 12-year comparison of organic, low-input, and conventional farming systems showed that yields were similar among all systems, with differences between systems less than those between years. The organic system with premium prices was the most profitable. Soil organic carbon was doubled in 10 years in the organic system. Runoff from cover-cropped systems was 1/3 that from conventional systems. The conventional farming systems were least efficient at storing excess N. Arthropods, pathogens, and nematodes had little influence on crop yields. Weeds resulted in small but detectable yield losses, and higher production costs in some years in the organic systems.

    Project objectives:

    1. Over a twelve-year period encompassing three, four-year rotation cycles, compare four farming systems with different levels of reliance on non-renewable resources with regard to:
    a.Crop growth, yield, and quality as influenced by different pest management, agronomic and rotational schemes of the four farming systems.
    b. Abundance and diversity of weed, pathogen, arthropod, and nematode populations and their impact on crop growth, yield, and quality.
    c. Changes in soil biology, physics, chemistry, and water relations and their impact on soil quality and productivity.
    d. Cost of production inputs, value of production, economic risk, energy budgets for agricultural production under the four farming systems.
    2. Compare and evaluate novel low-input and organic farming tactics, with emphasis on innovations that correct deficiencies, enhance profitability or decrease risk in each farming system.
    3. Distribute and facilitate adoption of information generated by this project to all interested parties as it becomes available.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.