Can Organic Soil Trump Climate Change?

The names bluster through in a destructive alphabetical roll call, Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. Like apocalyptic horsemen, the storms sweeping through the Atlantic all reached category four and higher. Fueled by super-warm ocean currents, this unusually active hurricane season provides devastating evidence that our planet is warming. Our climate is changing.

Agriculture is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse emissions, but we all gotta eat – right?  Now a trailblazing study, partially funded by the UNFI Foundation proves that organic agriculture is a way to feed the planet while reducing our contribution to climate change.

On September 11, 2017, Northeastern University and The Organic Center released a breakthrough study that provides significant proof that organic agricultural practices build healthy soils and can be part of the solution in the fight on global warming.

Researchers Dr. Elham Ghabbour and Dr. Geoffrey Davies, who lead the National Soil Project at Northeastern University, compared organic soil samples from farmers across the country and compared them with conventional soil. They measured 659 organic soil samples from 39 states and 728 conventional soil samples from all 48 contiguous states. The study found that ALL components of humic substances were higher in organic than in conventional soils.

The largest components of humic substances are fulvic acid and humic acid. This research found that, on average, soils from organic farms had: 13% higher soil organic matter, 150% more fulvic acid, 44% more humic acid and 26% greater potential for long-term carbon storage!

Why are these humic components so important? Healthy organic soil is teaming with earthworms, fungi and microorganisms all because of the carbon inherent in it. The carbon in soil consists of two main pools. One is accessible to microbes as food, and the other is much less accessible, aka sequestered. Sequestered carbon gives long-term stability to soil, ensures healthy crops that are less susceptible to drought and fosters a diversity of organisms.

Humic substances don’t easily degrade and can remain in the soil for hundreds and even thousands of years. So the more humic substances in soil, the longer that soil is trapping and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.

It is likely that organic practices like manuring, composting, cover crops, crop rotations, fallowing and rotational grazing increases humic substances in soil. It’s those very practices that the Rodale Institute aims to increase with their new Regenerative Organic Certification for organic agriculture.

The new certification isn’t looking to unseat the NOP organic standards – they will use them as a baseline. They aim to uphold them and facilitate the widespread adoption of holistic, regenerative practices that increase soil organic matter. Their standard encompasses guidelines for soil health and land management, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness, some areas the NOP standard does not include.

The Rodale Institute believes that “The environmental outcomes of a systemic shift to regenerative organic agricultural practices could be profound. In 2014, research by Rodale Institute estimated that if current crop acreage and pastureland shifted to regenerative organic practices, 100% of annual global CO2 emissions could be sequestered in the soil.”

If you think the organic industry needs another label and  you are interested in reviewing and commenting on the full Regenerative Organic Certification requirements, please click here to review. The last day to comment is October 12, 2017.

To find out more about the Cool Science for a Cool Planet click here.

We now have science that proves the soils on organic farms store larger amounts of carbons, for longer periods of time than conventional soils. When we farm with good organic agricultural practices, we take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the soil. When we choose organic food or textiles, we decrease a major cause of climate change—agriculture.

Let’s trump this climate problem with our farms and forks.

4 thoughts on “Can Organic Soil Trump Climate Change?

  1. Fantastic overview of this incredible study. It is so valuable to have more research to back up the substantial value organic agriculture has to preserving the planet.

  2. Look up The Great Green Wall.. the massive wall of trees some 15 km wide that is being planted across the width of the Sahel, that belt of the southern edge of the Sahara desert. It is to stop the advancing desert. Over time that soil will become fully organic if no chemical fertilizers are use. However, UN and other international organizations must also introduce composting (via earthworms, windrows, black solder flies) and even biochar.

    We cannot simply talk about organic soil. How to create organic soil is the key

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