Organic Farming ‘Could Sequester All Carbon Emissions’

by | May 27, 2014

farmOrganic farming practices could sequester more than 100 percent of our current carbon emissions, according to research from the Rodale Institute.

Achieving these goals would require the wholesale adoption of the practice of  “regenerative farming,” an organic farming technique that the study, Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change, describes as “widely available and inexpensive.”

Such practices include low- or no-till fields, crop rotation and cover crops in a bid to keep photosynthesized carbon in the soil.

In 2012, total annual global emissions of greenhouse gases were approximately 52 GtCO2e. These emissions must soon drop to a net of 41 GtCO2e a year if we are to have a feasible chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, according to the study.

If management of all current cropland shifted to reflect the regenerative model outlined in the study, it would potentially sequester more than 40 percent of annual emissions (an estimated 21 GtCO2 each year). If, at the same time, all global pasture was managed to a regenerative model, an additional 71 percent (~37 GtCO2) might be sequestered, bringing the world into an annual negative emissions scenario “rapidly,” the study says.

Adopting regenerative organic agriculture practices on just half of cropland and pasture would sequester enough emissions to meet the 41 GtCO2e a year threshold, the study says.

The question surrounding organic agriculture is always whether or not it can provide enough food to feed the world. The study argues it can, over time, provide more. Yields are typically higher using traditional farming methods than organic methods in the early years, but over time things even out, then organic farming becomes more fruitful, the study says. Crucially, organically grown crops can produce greater yields during droughts than traditionally grown crops. Organic corn yields, for example, are around 31 percent higher in drought than non-organic corn yields, the study says.

Organic farming techniques may be under threat from from regulations proposed by the US Food and Drug Administration, The Los Angeles Times reported in February. In 2010, after a campaign lasting several years, food safety activists managed to convince Congress that the agency should be have the authority to monitor farm practices.

In 2011, 33 people died after eating cantaloupe seemingly tainted by poor farming practices, sending the issue front and center and heaping pressure on the FDA to be more aggressive in its agricultural oversight, the paper reported.

Picture credit: American Farmland With Blue Cloudy Sky via Shutterstock

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