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The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World?

Author

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  • Derek H. Lynch

    () (Department Plant and Animal Sciences, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, P.O. Box 550, Truro, NS B2N 5E3, Canada)

  • Rod MacRae

    () (Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada)

  • Ralph C. Martin

    () (Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, P.O. Box 550, Truro, NS B2N 5E3, Canada)

Abstract

About 130 studies were analyzed to compare farm-level energy use and global warming potential (GWP) of organic and conventional production sectors. Cross cutting issues such as tillage, compost, soil carbon sequestration and energy offsets were also reviewed. Finally, we contrasted E and GWP data from the wider food system. We concluded that the evidence strongly favours organic farming with respect to whole-farm energy use and energy efficiency both on a per hectare and per farm product basis, with the possible exception of poultry and fruit sectors. For GWP, evidence is insufficient except in a few sectors, with results per ha more consistently favouring organic farming than GWP per unit product. Tillage was consistently a negligible contributor to farm E use and additional tillage on organic farms does not appear to significantly deplete soil C. Energy offsets, biogas, energy crops and residues have a more limited role on organic farms compared to conventional ones, because of the nutrient and soil building uses of soil organic matter, and the high demand for organic foods in human markets. If farm E use represents 35% of total food chain E use, improvements shown of 20% or more in E efficiency through organic farm management would reduce food-chain E use by 7% or more. Among other food supply chain stages, wholesale/retail (including cooling and packaging) and processing often each contribute 30% or more to total food system E. Thus, additional improvements can be obtained with reduced processing, whole foods and food waste minimization.

Suggested Citation

  • Derek H. Lynch & Rod MacRae & Ralph C. Martin, 2011. "The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(2), pages 1-41, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:3:y:2011:i:2:p:322-362:d:11190
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Wood, Richard & Lenzen, Manfred & Dey, Christopher & Lundie, Sven, 2006. "A comparative study of some environmental impacts of conventional and organic farming in Australia," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 89(2-3), pages 324-348, September.
    2. Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika, 1998. "Climate change and dietary choices -- how can emissions of greenhouse gases from food consumption be reduced?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(3-4), pages 277-293, November.
    3. Crystal Snyder & Dean Spaner, 2010. "The Sustainability of Organic Grain Production on the Canadian Prairies—A Review," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(4), pages 1-19, April.
    4. Vergé, X.P.C. & Dyer, J.A. & Desjardins, R.L. & Worth, D., 2008. "Greenhouse gas emissions from the Canadian beef industry," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 98(2), pages 126-134, September.
    5. Thomassen, M.A. & van Calker, K.J. & Smits, M.C.J. & Iepema, G.L. & de Boer, I.J.M., 2008. "Life cycle assessment of conventional and organic milk production in the Netherlands," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 96(1-3), pages 95-107, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:spr:agrhuv:v:35:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10460-017-9838-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Lauren C. Ponisio & Paul R. Ehrlich, 2016. "Diversification, Yield and a New Agricultural Revolution: Problems and Prospects," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(11), pages 1-15, November.
    3. Muller, Adrian & Olesen, Joergen & Smith, Laurence & Davis, Joan & Dytrtová, Karolína & Gattinger, Andreas & Lampkin, Nic & Niggli, Urs, 2012. "Reducing Global Warming and Adapting to Climate Change: The Potential of Organic Agriculture," Working Papers in Economics 526, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    4. repec:eee:ecomod:v:267:y:2013:i:c:p:102-114 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Siegmeier, Torsten & Blumenstein, Benjamin & Möller, Detlev, 2015. "Farm biogas production in organic agriculture: System implications," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 196-209.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    GHG; GWP; organic farming; conventional farming and food systems; energy efficiency; biofuels;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products

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