Is organic better? Yakima Valley College student researchers want to know

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima Valley College students have spent their summer trying to figure out whether organic produce is really the best choice for the environmentally conscious consumer.

“There’s a lot of assumptions that, you know, organic is always better, except that it costs more or that it doesn’t last as long,” student researcher Hope Bogart said.

Bogart has been working as part of a small research team, including fellow student Aspen Scott and instructor Claire Carpenter, to get soil samples from both conventional and organic honeycrisp apple orchards and compare them to see which is more fertile.

“That involves going out into the field and collecting soil samples and then some real time data like cell respiration data, and then time in the lab processing those samples,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said they’ve looked at the amount of nitrate in the soil,  the degree to which the soil is undergoing cell respiration, the pH of the soil and how much carbon was in the soil.

Researchers said carbon is good for soil and the trees that rely on that soil to grow and produce healthy fruit. Scott said he had thought they might find more carbon in the organic soil.

“But we did some t-tests and that’s not true; it’s comparable between the two,” Scott said.

The last thing the group of researchers is looking at before the summer project comes to an end is which kind of soil has more nematodes, which are microscopic creatures that eat other insects.

“The nematode piece came out of a conversation with the owner of the orchard, who basically said they have a lot of trouble establishing new organic orchards on land that had previously been an orchard because of high levels of nematode root damage,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said the research team is still seeking answers to many of the questions they started with at the beginning of the summer, but they’re learned a lot of good information the growers can take with them into the next season.

“I don’t have an answer about, if you’re strongly motivated by environmental concerns, whether organic or conventional agriculture is the best, but I thought I’m a scientist, I can try to address some of that,” Carpenter said. “This is a small piece of that question.”

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