Greenhouse gas emissions lower in organic farming than conventional, even on a per unit basis

The body of science that shows organic farming can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage, and mitigate climate change is growing. However, since organic production  is generally less productive than intensive conventional operations, there is a perception that transitioning to organic farming may actually increase global warming potential when comparing units of production from organic to conventional. But a new study published in the journal Sustainability debunks this myth, and shows that even with lower yields, organic farming still can produce fewer emissions, even with a per unit of production comparison. The study, conducted in a highly productive agricultural region, compared two organic crop rotations to a conventional arable rotation and to two controls of a beech forest and extensive grassland. The conventional rotation produced the most nitrous oxide and methane emissions, followed by the organic rotations, the grasslands and then the beech forest, which stored enough carbon to be a sink, rather than a source of emissions. Importantly, while the organic crop yields were 40% lower than conventional yields, greenhouse gas emissions for organic production were so much lower than conventional production than even on a per unit basis, organic’s global warming potential was lower. This study adds to the growing body of scientific literature that shows the potential for organic farming to mitigate climate change.