Image credit: Suzette Pauwels, used under Creative Commons license.
80% of UK farmers may want to go solar, but the fact is that farming is still an incredibly carbon-intensive business. That's why two pieces of news from organic charity The Soil Association caught my eye this week—one, that organic systems use as much as 50% less energy than conventional farms—and two, that the organic movement is launching a major push for even lower carbon farming. This is what sustainable farming should really be about. The UK-based Soil Association has always been a purveyor of big picture thinking. Exploring ideas like One Planet Agriculture, and farming after peak oil, these pioneers of the organic movement are masters at looking beyond soil management techniques, or alternatives to pesticides, at the original intent behind organic agriculture—namely the protection of our food systems and the world we all rely on for survival.
Last week they sent out a press release drawing attention to the fact that diversified organic farms use less energy than conventional farms, both on an absolute basis, and in terms of energy expended per yield too. And yesterday they followed up with an announcement that they are launching a low carbon farming initiative aimed at providing benchmarking processes, user-friendly carbon footprinting tools, and a collaborative learning process for sharing the successes and failures on the path to low carbon farming:
"There is a growing urgency for farms to reduce their carbon footprint. This kind of work is essential if we are going to reach government targets of reducing green house gas emissions 80 per cent by 2050. Farming has a vital role to play when it comes to our impact on climate and is responsible for 30 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. We hope to encourage adoption of best practice by enabling farmers to learn from each other, make assessments of their current activities and identify areas where improvements could be made. I look forward to hearing from farmers keen to get involved in the initial carbon foot printing exercise."
It's not clear from the release whether this will be an organic-only exercise, or whether all farms are welcome to participate. Either way it is a timely and important step in the quest for truly sustainable agriculture. No word on whether tofu, electric tractors and tree farms will feature heavily in these efforts or not, but we have little time to waste if we want to keep a stable, farmer-friendly climate.
More on Low Carbon and Post-Oil Farming
How Will We Eat When Peak Oil Hits?
The Soil Association Explores One Planet Agriculture
Food and Farming after Peak Oil