Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Organic Agriculture

Related resources  -  Long-Term Agroecological Research  -  Other findings

Less than 10 percent of Leopold Center research dollars goes to studying organic systems. However, the Center has been able to significantly add to the body of knowledge about organic agriculture over the past two decades.

Why organic?

We can learn a lot about how to implement Aldo Leopold’s idea of the ‘biotic community’ from organic agriculture, which takes a system-wide approach. Consumer demand for healthier food and cleaner environments provide a compelling reason to look at alternative systems and their impacts.

Organic systems research also adds to our scientific knowledge regarding ecological theory and can be transferred to non-organic farming systems, thus strengthening all aspects of agriculture. For example, organic farming fosters biodiversity, which offers unique services such as pest management in the ecosystem. How biodiversity affects pest management on farms is not fully understood and can be tested in organic systems.

One of the fundamental differences is in the farm operator’s role in organic agriculture. Farmers have played and continue to play a significant role in developing this farming system. Organic agriculture is grounded in diverse crop rotations, which requires both research and management strategies that are integrated and systems-based. Organic practices and measures of success are intentionally multifunctional over time: the goal is not to simplify.

Related resources


Long-Term Agroecological Research (LTAR)

This experiment at the ISU Neely-Kinyon Research and Demonstration Farm near Greenfield was set up in 1998, the capstone of the Organic Ag program at Iowa State University. It is one of the longest running comparisons of organic and conventional crops in the country. The Leopold Center has supported the LTAR project and the ISU Organic Ag Program since they began, and much has been learned about pest management, crop and soil quality, and profitability.

The Center's investment has been multiplied four-fold as leveraged funding to obtain additional grants from other agencies and the organic industry. During the LTAR project's first dozen years, Leopold Center support resulted in 32 peer-reviewed publications, nine ISU Extension publications, 31 workshops, 65 field days and work by 20 international visiting scientists.

Linkages between organic agriculture and the Leopold Center mission include

  • more than 100,000 acres in Iowa under organic systems, with many more in transition,
  • documented benefits in relation to water and soil quality, energy use and local production/economic development, and
  • at least 20 percent of program participants reporting an 11-20 percent increase in farm income (latest five-year survey of clientele).

In addition to the LTAR experiment, other recent research in organic agriculture systems includes

  • Organic Soybean Fertility Treatments, Neely-Kinyon Farm, Greenfield
  • Disease Management of Organic Grapes, Neely-Kinyon Farm, Greenfield
  • Management of Soybean Staining Disease and Soybean Aphid in Organic Soybeans, Neely-Kinyon Farm, Greenfield
  • Insect Pest Management in Organic Sweet Corn, Neely-Kinyon Farm, Greenfield
  • No-Till Organic Corn, Soybean and Oats, ISU Agronomy Farm, Boone, and Neely-Kinyon Farm, Greenfield
  • Organic Soybean Variety Trial: ISU Southeast Research Farm, Crawfordsville
  • On-Farm Evaluation of Organic Apple Pest Management, with Maury Wills, Wills Family Farm, Adel, and
  • On-Farm Evaluation of Natural Nitrogen for Organic Corn, Shriver Farm, Jefferson.

Download a brochure about this project, or read about the competitive grant and work of this research team.

For reports and more information about this program, go to the ISU Organic Agriculture webpage.

Impact of support for this research


Scientific Findings About Organic Agricultureleaf

This website is a project of the Leopold Center, began under the direction of past Center Director Jerry DeWitt. Findings from nearly 300 peer-reviewed, scientific articles about organic agriculture are summarized on this website. The site organizes the research findings by topic in these areas:

  • Animal health and welfare
  • Fruits & vegetables
  • Grains
  • Meat
  • Organic farming and niche markets
  • Organic/conventional comparisons
  • Poultry

The summaries do not make any attempt to recommend organically grown food over conventionally-produced food, or to infer that organically grown food could provide nutritional health benefits, perceived or otherwise. Research cited involves a comparison or specific trait of organic food. Original citations are included with the summaries. Additional information may be available from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) here.

Submissions of articles for review can be directed to the Leopold Center director, or by sending an email to: leocenter@iastate.edu.