The Organic Center’s Confluences: Embrace Organic Agriculture To Fight Our Climate Crisis

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I’ve written quite a lot about the Climate Crisis because it should be top of mind for all of us.

NOAAjust confirmed that this summer matched 2016 as the hottest on record. Ice coverage in the Arctic shrunk to the second smallest ever recorded.

The Organic Center’s Confluences Conference, last week at Expo East, drove home the fact that organic agriculture is a solution we must embrace.

Agriculture contributes to the Climate Crisis

Cowmoo

Kate Schoen from the National Academy of Sciences explained that 9% of all Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in the US come from agriculture. That might not seem like much, but Agriculture is the main contributor of methane and nitrous oxide.

Both have a much greater impact on the atmosphere in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide.

Nitrous oxide lasts in the atmosphere for about 110 years. Nitrous oxide is not only potent, but it also destroys the ozone.

Methane is roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.

It turns out that 37% of all methane emissions come from Agriculture—primarily from cattle and dairy management—thinking, burping and manure management.

And, 79% of all nitrous oxide emissions come from Agriculture—either from tillage or fertilizer.

Globally it’s a different story. The animal supply chain contributes 14.5% to all global GHG emissions, according to FAO.

The IPCC estimates that Ag and deforestation contribute 24% of all global GHG emissions.

Since we all gotta eat, we seem to have a problem. Remember, Wendell Berry told us that “Eating is an Agricultural Act.”

Farmers are on the front lines of this global crisis.

Amber Sciligo from The Organic Center pointed out how much Climate Change is affecting farmers. Heat stress, fewer chilling hours, reduced fertility, increased pest pressure, flooding and droughts make farming more and more precarious.

Organic farmers don’t have the silver bullets that conventional Ag has to fight the climate onslaught.

Aidee Guzman, a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, is doing a meta-analysis of the relationship between climate change and soil health and yields—which is super important for farmers.

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She showed us a startling image of dead almond trees laid asunder from the latest California drought. It was a devastating image that moved the room to sorrow for the trees and for the person who planted them.

The photo was attached to the Op-Ed, “Farmers Don’t Need to Read the Science. We are Living It.” Published in the NY Times by Alan Sano, a Central Valley farmer from Aidee’s hometown.

Agriculture, if done right, can be part of the solution.

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With all this, she held a glimmer of hope. Instead of thinking of the negative impacts of agriculture, we should celebrate and promote the positive ways that organic methods can combat climate change.

Organic production incorporates crop rotations and cover crops, growing with minimum soil disturbance while integrating livestock into production.

Studies indicate that 26% more long-term carbon storage occurs in organic farms vs. conventional. And, organic production releases fewer emissions and uses less energy, and organic soil sequesters more carbon from the atmosphere.

Kate Tully from the University of Maryland asked us to consider what soil health is. She explained that “It’s the capacity of soil to function as a vital living system—to sustain, plants animals and humans.

What does that look like? What are the physical Indicators of soil health?

Is it sticky to the touch? How much water does it retain and filter? How much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are present? Can you see many earthworms? What weeds are about? How much diversity is present?

To measure soil health, you must also be present to touch, smell and see it.

Let’s get the word out on organic agriculture! 

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Angela Jagiello from the OTA spoke about how Climate Change can be a driver for consumers to seek out organic products.

Impactful messages that include water quality, enriched soil and carbon sequestration should be told.

Instead of thinking of the negative, we should promote the positive ways organic can combat climate change by crop rotation, cover crops, minimum soil disturbance, integrating livestock and planting perennial crops.

Don’t forget Policy.

Megan DeBates from the OTA has been educating members of Congress about how organic can mitigate climate change.

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Her message is simple. “Organic protects natural resources—it prohibits the use of toxic synthetic fertilizers, and it promotes soil health and reduces erosion.

OTA recommendations urge Congress to:

Establish a commission to evaluate ecosystem services delivered by organic production. Recommend policies to reward and incentivize these ecosystem services.

Develop a grant program for providing technical services to organic and transitioning farmers.

Provide market and infrastructure development grants for minor rotational crops that improve soil health

Provide tax credits for landowners who have long-term leases under organic production.

The Organic Centers Confluences highlighted many farmers and business who are making a difference through promoting regenerative organic practices.

These leaders are fighting climate change one business decision and one acre at a time.

You can join them by embracing organic on your plate and in your business.

Because there isn’t much time left.

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