The Climate Crisis and Our Food: How Organic Farming Can Help

The impacts of climate change threaten the future of agriculture and our food supply. Extreme weather, drought, flooding, and wildfires are becoming more common, making farming less predictable and resilient. As farmers face these mounting challenges, what steps can be taken to ensure our agricultural systems can adapt and continue feeding people sustainably?

Transitioning more farmland to certified organic production offers a promising path forward. Organic farming methods help mitigate climate change in a few key ways:

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Conventional agriculture relies heavily on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels. The production of these chemicals is highly energy-intensive, generating significant greenhouse gas emissions. Because organic farmers use natural sources of fertility like compost and plant cover crops instead of synthetic fertilizers, the carbon footprint of organic systems is estimated to be 20% lower. Organic farmers also avoid fumigant pesticides which release nitrous oxide, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

Improving Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration

Building healthy soils is the foundation of organic farming. Practices like cover cropping, crop rotations, and application of compost increase levels of organic matter and sequester more carbon in the soil compared to conventional chemical-intensive farming. One extensive review found pesticide use damages soil life critical to carbon sequestration. With worldwide adoption of organic techniques, soils could potentially absorb more carbon than is emitted by agriculture between 2020-2100.

Boosting Resilience to Extreme Weather

By improving soil health, organic farms are better equipped to cope with drought, flooding, and other climate impacts. Organic matter allows soil to retain more water and replenishes groundwater reserves. One long-term study found organic crop yields were up to 40% higher than conventional in drought years thanks to healthier soils. Because they rely less on fossil fuel-derived inputs, organic farmers may also be more resilient to supply chain disruptions and price volatility.

Global Momentum for Organic

International organizations have recognized the climate benefits of organic agriculture. The European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy sets an ambitious goal for 25% of EU farmland to be organic by 2030. In the U.S., California recently proposed a target of transitioning 20% of the state’s agricultural land to organic by 2045. While a step in the right direction, many experts say this goal does not fully capture the climate mitigation potential of organic farming.

The scientific evidence clearly shows well-managed organic systems can deliver significant climate benefits while producing nutritious food sustainably. To fully realize the potential of organic agriculture, governments must invest more in helping farmers adopt organic practices and make organic food more accessible and affordable to all. The climate crisis demands bold, transformative changes across our food system. Scaling up organic represents one of our most promising opportunities to limit global warming while feeding a growing population.