Organic Soil Reduces Carbon Emissions

A new study indicates that the soil on organic farms hold 25% more carbon than soil from conventional farms.

By Hugh Finlay


New Study

As much as 80% of the world's carbon is stored in the soil. Conventional farming is displacing much of this carbon, sending it out into the atmosphere to create global warming. A new study indicates that the amount of carbon retained by organic soil is significantly greater than non-organic soil. Said Jessica Shade, the science programs director from The Organic Center "This study is truly groundbreaking (No pun intended). We don't just look at total soil carbon but also components of soil that have stable pools of carbon - humic substances - which gives us a much more accurate and precise view of the stable, long-term storage of carbon in the soil."

Unlike labile carbon in the soil which moves quickly in and out of the soil, humic substances remain in the soil for centuries, or many centuries, and are therefore holding carbon in the soil for much longer than labile.

The Results

Taking soils from various parts of the United States researchers found that organic farms' soil had more ability to retain and store carbon over a long period of time. The organic soil had 44% more humic acid, along with 150% more fulvic acid, 13% more soil organic, making the organic soil 25% more able to store carbon over a long period of time, compared with non-organic soil. Jessica Shade's conclusion: "These results highlight the potential of organic agriculture to increase the amount of carbon sequestration in the soil, and by doing so, help decrease a major cause of climate change."

Why Organic Soil Has More Carbon

"Carbon is the food of life." said Ann Adams, of Holistic Management International. Plants absorb carbon from the air and put most of it into their roots, and therefore in the soil. Microorganisms in the soil live off the carbon, and in return, these microorganisms send nutrients into the roots of the plants. These microorganisms make sure the soil is well aerated, so that the soil can absorb a lot of water, thus avoiding flooding and droughts. Ann Adams goes on, "The soil has an incredible ability to store a lot of carbon." But this ability depends on the amount of microorganisms in the soil. Due to chemical farming the amount of these microorganisms has greatly decreased, and consequently also the ability of the soil to hold carbon. It is estimated that the Earth's soil has lost 70% of its carbon in recent history. Which means that the carbon is in the air creating greenhouse gases (80% of greenhouse gases are made up of carbon), which in turn leads to the greenhouse effect.

Regenerative Agriculture

Organic food has more nutrients than non-organic food (about 3-4 times more), because there are more microorganisms in organic soil, sending nutrients to the roots of the plants. A new trend in agriculture specifically aimed at regenerating the health of the soil is regenerative agriculture. Apart from not using chemical herbicides and fertilizers, regenerative agriculture advocates not tilling the soil, as tilling reduces the amount of microorganisms in the soil, and therefore releases more carbon into the atmosphere. A technique to avoid tilling the land, is to use perennial plants which do not have to be replanted every year, unlike the usual grains like wheat. So, regenerative farming not only regenerates the soil reducing greenhouse gases, but also restores the nutrition levels of our food. As one regenerative farmer put it "We have to become regenerative to fix the human health crisis."

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