Organic Farming Potentially Worse for Environment Than Conventional, Study Warns
One of the largest drawbacks of organic farming is that it requires more land than conventional farming; therefore the emission of greenhouse gases and nutrient leakage can be higher in the production of the same amount of food, Swedish researchers have found.
Organic farming is not necessarily good for the climate and can lead to a larger amount of greenhouse gases, depending on the counting method, researchers at Lund University, Sweden, have concluded.
While many companies and even nations are betting on organic agriculture in a bid to save the environment (for instance, Sweden has a goal to go 30 percent organic by 2030), it has its downsides as well. One of the largest is that organic farming requires more land than conventional farming, at a time when the need for efficient land use increases in lockstep with global demand for food and biofuels.
Researchers at the Agrifood Economics Centre at the School of Economics at Lund University looked at three further environmental factors: biodiversity, nutrient leakage and greenhouse gas emissions.
When the impact is measured per hectare of arable land, organic farming indeed was found to provide increased biodiversity, less nutrient leakage and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
“But if the environmental impact is instead calculated on the basis of how much land is required to produce a certain amount of food, well, then we find that organic farming only has a positive effect on biodiversity. Emissions of greenhouse gases and nutrient leakage can even increase if the same amount of food is to be produced with organic instead of conventional agriculture,” Agrifood Economics Centre director Fredrik Wilhelmsson said in a press release.
This is partly due to the fact that more agricultural land is required to produce the same amount of food in organic farming. This reduces the possibility of using the land for forestry or as protected areas.
“We conclude therefore that it is not a given that organic farming is better for the environment than conventional farming. It is thus not self-evident that support for organic farming can be justified on the basis of consideration for the environment. Agricultural subsidies need to be designed to reduce the environmental impact, regardless of whether the cultivation takes place organically or conventionally,” Agrifood Economics Centre researcher Christian Jörgensen concluded.