How Much Carbon Can Organic Agriculture Sequester?

soil association organic soil carbon photo

Image credit: Soil Association

I may not have been a huge fan of the promo video for its organic farm school, but the UK's Soil Association has been a tireless advocate for sustainable, planet friendly farming for years. And in looking at everything from the irony of air freighted organic produce to the idea of One Planet Agriculture, you can usually count on these guys to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Now their claiming that converting the UK to organic agriculture could result in massive cuts in atmospheric carbon. In the run up to the Copenhagen summmit, the organization is releasing a new report that describes organic farming as "the missing link" at COP15. the report argues that up to 86% of agriculture's potential for climate change mitigation lies in carbon sequestration in soils; that organic farming results in 20%-28% higher levels of soil carbon compared to non-organic farming; and that a global conversion to organic farming could sequester up to 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Christine has covered the incredible carbon sequestration potential of soils before.)

Of course a report like this will raise eyebrows among those who question the potential for organic farming to feed the world. But it looks like the Soil Association is not advocating business as usual in any shape or form, as Policy Director Peter Melchett explains—organic farming needs to be considered as part of a wider rethink of our destructive food systems:

"Climate change means that business as usual in our food and farming systems is no longer an option. To minimize tropical deforestation and maximize soil carbon sequestration we need to move to healthier diets based on unprocessed, seasonal produce and grass-fed meat in moderation rather than intensive poultry and pork. With dietary shifts we could feed the world sustainably, address the health and diet-related ill-health time bomb, and help meet our GHG targets. This should provide a no-brainer basis for inclusion in the COP15 treaty."

And let's not forget that sustainable farming doesn't have to mean low tech—from wireless soil sensors to urban aquaponics to vertical farming, there are plenty of ways that technology and innovation can be used to complement a return to more traditional, soil-preserving organic techniques.

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