In this review, we examine the debate surrounding the role for organic agriculture in future food production systems. Typically represented as a binary organic–conventional question, this debate perpetuates an either/or mentality. We question this framing and examine the pitfalls of organic–conventional cropping systems comparisons. The review assesses current knowledge about how these cropping systems compare across a range of metrics related to four sustainability goals: productivity, environmental health, economic viability, and quality of life. We conclude by arguing for reframing the debate, recognizing that farming systems fall along gradients between three philosophical poles—industrial, agrarian, and ecological—and that different systems will be appropriate in different contexts. Despite evidence for lower yields in organic crop systems, we found considerable evidence for environmental and social benefits. Given these advantages, and the potential for improving organic systems, we echo calls for increased investment in organic and ecologically based cropping systems research and extension.


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