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October 1, 2019

Regenerative organic agriculture has potential to halt climate change

environment — @ 10:44 am

Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute, Organic Broadcaster, Sept 2019

We can stop the climate crisis. At least, we can start reducing the 23% of global greenhouse gases that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently attributed to agricultural activities.

The answer is regenerative organic agriculture. And the time to implement it is now. In a recent report, the UN said humans cannot stave off the effects of climate change without making drastic changes to how we grow food and use land. Conventional, industrial agriculture depends on chemical inputs and fossil-fuel intensive synthetic fertilizers, in addition to heavy machinery and tillage, to grow food. Industrial farming also relies on factory farms for animals. These methods release large amounts of carbon, methane, and other gases into the atmosphere.

In contrast, science proves that regenerative organic systems, which prioritize soil health and good farming practices like cover cropping, crop rotations, and pasturing animals, use 45% less energy and release 40% fewer carbon emissions than conventional agriculture, with no statistical difference in yields.

The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial was started in 1981 and is the longest side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional grain cropping systems in North America. We’ve collected data on soil health, crop yields, energy efficiency, and more through our research trials, which have led us to discover the implications of switching to an organic system. Rodale Institute and others have concluded that if we converted all global cropland and pastures to regenerative organic systems, we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions. As the UN report states, we don’t have time to wait.

Regenerative organic agriculture works with natural systems to produce nutritious and abundant food, instead of relying on synthetic inputs like pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Regenerative goes beyond sustainable to improve resources, not just maintain them. Regenerative organic agriculture utilizes strategies like organic no-till, which uses cover crops to return nutrients to the soil while absorbing carbon dioxide, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Because the soil is not disturbed in organic no-till systems, the carbon dioxide absorbed by the cover crop is sequestered in the soil instead of released into the atmosphere.

Regenerative organic prioritizes soil health, but also considers animal welfare and social fairness in its standards. Regenerative organic livestock management emphasizes rotational grazing, grazing on grass, and no antibiotics or hormones, reducing the heavy burden livestock place on climate. But we don’t need regenerative organic agriculture only to mitigate the effects of climate change. We also need it in order to feed a world that’s already been shaped by a changing climate. As extreme weather events become more frequent, agricultural systems must become more resilient. Our research has found that organic crops have the potential to produce yields up to 40% higher in times of inclement weather—like flooding or drought—than conventional systems. This means that it is possible to feed the world while reducing carbon emissions.

Jeff Moyer is the executive director of Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Organic No-Till Farming: Advancing No-Till Agriculture. https://mosesorganic.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Broadcaster-Sept.-2019.pdf
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