Organic Farming a Powerful Solution for Climate Change

Study Reveals Organic’s Huge Potential in Capturing Carbon

Healthy Soil
Photo Credit: USDA NRCS/Aaron Roth

Organic soil is better at storing carbon dioxide and keeping it out of the atmosphere, according to a recent study from Northeastern University and The Organic Center.

The study found that organic soil has a “26 percent greater potential for long-term carbon storage,” making organic farming a powerful solution for climate change, since carbon in the atmosphere acts as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

One of the largest field studies of its kind ever conducted, the new study compared soil samples from approximately 1400 conventional and organic farms across the United States and found that organic soils had 44 percent more humic acid than soils from conventional farms. In fact, researchers found virtually no humic acid in the soils on farms that use conventional methods.

Humic acid is important because it’s the primary mechanism in soil that gives it carbon sequestration abilities – so the higher the percentage of humic acid, the greater the ability of the soil to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it for longer periods. This acid is a primary component of humic substances, which the Organic Center calls the “gold standard of organic matter… the life-blood for fertile soils… [and] one of the most effective ways to mitigate climate change.”

Fulvic acid is another major component of humic substances. The study reported that organic soils had 150 percent more fulvic acid than conventional soils.

In addition to having a higher percentage of fulvic acid, organic soils also had 13 percent more organic matter than conventional soils. Organic matter – which is made up of both living and decomposing plant material, cells, and tissues of soil organisms – is a critical factor in determining the health of a soil.

Organic matter is also essential for plants to obtain nutrients and for farmers to grow crops. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:

“Nutrient exchanges between organic matter, water and soil are essential to soil fertility and need to be maintained for sustainable production purposes. Where the soil is exploited for crop production without restoring the organic matter and nutrient contents and maintaining a good structure, the nutrient cycles are broken, soil fertility declines and the balance in the agro-ecosystem is destroyed.”

The full study will be published in the Oct. 1st issue of the scientific journal Advances in Agronomy.  

With a growing body of research that soil is one of the biggest “sinks” for carbon in the atmosphere, organic farmers and farmers that implement practices to increase the health of the soil will play an increasingly critical role in reducing the causes of climate change.