Organic Farming, Saving the World?

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A 30 year scientific trial has shown that organic practices could counteract up to 40% of global greenhouse gas output.
Andrew Leu, Chairman of the Australian Organic Federation, says the trial of organic and conventional farming practices has proved that organic practices “can be the single biggest way to mitigate climate change”.

During the trial the scientists proved that about 7000kg of carbon dioxide can be removed from the air each year by organic farming of one hectare of farmland.

According to Mr Leu, the scientists estimated that if all of America’s 100 million hectares of cropland were converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of taking 217 million cars off the road. That is approx 88% of all cars in the USA or over 1/3 of cars in the world.

Dr Paul Hepperly, PhD, research director at The Rodale Institute and Fulbright Scholar stated: “We’ve shown that organic practices can do better than anyone thought at sequestering carbon.”
Mr Leu said it was important to note that: “This is not a theoretical estimate as in some of the tree plantation models or unproven like the millions of dollars being spent on clean coal or mechanical geo sequestration trials,” he said. “This is being achieved now by organic farmers in the US, Australia and around the world.”

Jerry Coleby-Williams, Queensland Conservation board member, says the research (first published in 2003) has relevance in Australia.

“Applying similar carbon sequestration results to those found in the Rodale study, an Australian farm with an average cropping area of 710 hectares, could sequester 5500 tonnes of carbon each year,” he says.

“There is a total of about 50 million ha of periodically cultivated soils in Australia, representing the potential for at least 390 million tonnes of captured carbon per year.”

With the rising oil prices organic production becomes cost effective as well as eco-friendly.

“Research has shown organic farms can return higher yields over a longer period with less dependence on oil-derived fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. ‘This puts organics at an advantage as cheap and plentiful oil comes to an end,” he says.

Soil consultants claim fertiliser application can be reduced by 20%-30% on farms that are committed to restoring soil health via natural methods.

Mr Coleby-Williams says organic farm techniques deserve greater consideration from governments in the development of emissions mitigation policies.

“They are a simple and effective means of reducing Australia’s carbon footprint. Here in Queensland we could sequester 13% of the state’s total carbon emissions by converting our croplands to organics.”

Stock Journal reported in April this year of Snowtown farmer Brian Krieg who has been able to increase the organic matter level in his soils by from between 1.5% to 1.8%, to 2.5%-3% in three years by using biological farming techniques.

This means he could potentially earn $50-$100 a hectare if he became involved in carbon trading.

Lawrie Co General Manager, Andrew VanderSluys, said Mr Krieg’s results prove agriculture has a real chance to be formally part of carbon trading schemes and not just ones aligned to forestry.
“The one great hurdle stopping agriculture from automatically becoming a major player in all future carbon trading schemes is the cyclical nature of organic soil carbon when cropping,” Mr
VanderSluys said.

“That is, you build it up but then you deplete it with continuous cropping. It is not permanently increased so it cannot be ‘paid’ as a carbon deposit.”

But results from Mr Krieg’s farm show he has been successful in building-up organic soil carbon – while continuously cropping – with no backward steps, proving permanent sequestration.

“This now paves the way for agriculture to prove it can permanently sequester Co2 from the atmosphere as fixed organic carbon in the soil,” Mr VanderSluys said.

“Given the potential for millions of tonnes to be sequestered, agriculture will far outperform any other carbon sequestration concept in a timeframe faster than any other concept can perform.
“Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was recently on-record as saying he was interested and seeking some way for agriculture to be a part of a properly-convened trading scheme, given its absolutely enormous ability to vacuum Co2 out of the atmosphere.

“The only sticking point is how can we ensure the average organic carbon level keeps increasing in the face of continuous cropping.”

Organics represent one alternative for managing soil carbon however it is a small part of agribusiness and often difficult to manage. Next issue we review other conventional soil management systems.

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