The Rodale Institute, which promotes organic farming, has been investigating this question for more than 30 years. It grows organic and conventional corn, wheat and soy side by side on test plots and measures the energy inputs for each.
According to the nonprofit organization’s numbers, farming one hectare (about 2.5 acres) of organic corn requires 10,150 megajoules of energy. (That’s the approximate amount of energy in 78 gallons of gasoline.) By contrast, one hectare of conventionally grown corn requires 17,372 megajoules, 71 percent more than the organic crop.
What accounts for this enormous difference? It’s not the pesticides and herbicides that some consumers are most concerned about. Rather, it’s nitrogen-based fertilizer, which represents 41 percent of the energy used in the conventional technique.