Organic Farming Actually Increases Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Finds

The need for larger plots of lands leads to higher emissions.
Fabienne Lang

There is a widespread belief that organic farming reduces greenhouse gas emissions, is better for the planet, and ultimately for humans too. You wouldn't be entirely wrong if you believe this information.

However, a new study by researchers at Cranfield University in the U.K. has unveiled that this type of farming, in fact, increases greenhouse gas emissions.

The study was published on Tuesday in Nature Communications.


Organic farming and more land

Why would organic farming lead to more emissions?

Surely, it does the opposite, as it requires fewer nasty and chemically-imbibed pesticides and fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms, all of which can harm our planet. 

The study uncovered the fact that because organic farming requires more land to create the same amount of food as non-organic farming, more land needs to be cleared. Because extra land would come from grasslands that store carbon, more emissions would occur.

Ultimately, organic farming leads to more climate pollution. 

How did the researchers come to this conclusion?

The team analyzed what would happen if all of England and Wales changed their methods to organic farming. 

Directly, this type of farming would decrease greenhouse gas emissions from livestock by 5%, and from crops by 20% per unit of production. 

Indirectly, and negatively, yields would be cut down by 40%, which would lead to more imports from overseas. Alternatively, instead of importing goods, if more land was added for the farming, greenhouse gas emissions would go up by 21%. This is because grasslands that store carbon in plants, roots, and soil would be slashed, leading to more emissions. 

However, it's not all doom and gloom when it comes to organic farming. 

By avoiding chemicals to improve their crops, organic farmers instead use animal manure and compost to boost their crops, as well as practicing crop rotation — all of which improve soil health. 

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This way of farming does keep emissions lower than farming that uses synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

If we look at livestock, it's a slightly different story. Livestock that is raised organically tends to live longer as they aren't pumped full of hormones and so don't grow as big as quickly. By living longer, cattle have more time on earth to release methane, which is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter. 

On the flip side, by allowing cattle to roam more freely in green pastures, they may stimulate additional plant growth, thus decreasing carbon dioxide in the air. 

Ultimately, organic farming still requires more land if it wants to produce as much as non-organic farming. 

The trick now is to keep finding ways of cutting down on synthetic fertilizers that release environmental pollution, as well as developing agricultural methods that don't require more land to be used up.

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