As consumers, we are usually willing to pay a bit more for organic produce for reasons of nutrition, health, the environment and/or the quality of life of farm animals. The authors write that within the global food industry, the sale of organic produce is one of the fastest growing market segments.
The investigators wanted to find out whether there were significant differences in the quality of fruits and soil from 13 pairs of commercially organic and conventional strawberry agroecosystems (neighbouring farms) in Watsonville, California, USA. 40% of the state's strawberries are grown in this area.
The researchers consisted of ecologists, soil scientists, horticulturists, farming experts, bioscientists, statisticians, food scientists, pharmaceutical scientists and environmental geneticists.
Three varieties of strawberries were evaluated at various intervals over a two-year period. The strawberries were tested for:
- Mineral elements
- Shelf life (how long they last before they start to rot)
- Active health-protecting compounds (phytochemical composition)
- Taste, color, odor and feel (organoleptic properties)
The team found that organic strawberries (compared to non-organic strawberries):
- Had a longer shelf life (took longer to rot)
- Had a greater quantity of dry matter
- Had higher antioxidant activity
- Had higher levels of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
- Had higher concentrations of health-protecting compounds (phenolic compounds)
- Had lower concentrations of phosphorus
- Had lower concentrations of potassium
The researchers added:
Organically farmed soils also exhibited greater numbers of endemic genes and greater functional gene abundance and diversity for several biogeochemical processes, such as nitrogen fixation and pesticide degradation.
The authors concluded:
Our findings show that the organic strawberry farms produced higher quality fruit and that their higher quality soils may have greater microbial functional capability and resilience to stress. These findings justify additional investigations aimed at detecting and quantifying such effects and their interactions.
"Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems"
John P. Reganold, Preston K. Andrews, Jennifer R. Reeve, Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Christopher W. Schadt, J. Richard Alldredge, Carolyn F. Ross, Neal M. Davies, Jizhong Zhou
PLoS ONE 5(9): e12346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346