How does organic farming help to reduce pollution?

In general, organic agriculture is considered to be a much more sustainable alternative when it comes to food production. The lack of pesticides and a greater variety of plants improves biodiversity and translates into better soil quality and a reduction in pollution from fertilizer or pesticide runoff.

Organic agriculture

can reduce emissions, since it is based on reduced inputs, closed nutrient cycles and fertile soils. It provides many environmental and animal welfare benefits for soils, water and biodiversity.

Feeding animals on well-managed pastures also helps to return carbon to soils. Consumers already associate organic products with environmental benefits and consider the lack of fertilizers and pesticides to be one of their defining characteristics. The Galloway team calculated the loss of nitrogen per unit of nitrogen consumed for organic food production in the United States and compared it to conventional production. Organic agriculture practices vary in terms of their impact on nitrogen pollution, but many common organic strategies, such as crop rotation, composting plant and animal materials, and using manure as fertilizer, result in higher rates of nitrogen recycling.

According to a new study published in Nature Communications, cutting down more pastures or forests to grow enough food to compensate for that difference would release far more greenhouse gases than practices initially reduce. Since regular shoppers already assume that organically grown foods are better for the environment than their conventional counterparts, this study may not be different enough to attract new adherents to organic foods. While these organic management practices recycle reactive nitrogen existing in the environment, organic farms also lose some of this nitrogen to the environment during production. The conversion to organic products is a slow and expensive process, involving a three-year transitional period in which farmers must adhere to organic practices without being paid the prices of organic products.

Because organic agriculture depends on these “recycled nitrogen sources”, it introduces less new reactive nitrogen into the system and therefore has a lower impact on the environment. Consumers are willing to pay much more for organically grown products, but researchers have identified high prices as a limiting factor that continues to prevent the organic market from reaching its full potential. According to the study, legumes that organic farmers have to use to help convert nitrogen into more reactive compounds in the soil end up profoundly affecting other food crops that they could otherwise grow. However, studies have shown that organic milk and meat may be richer in nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids.

Researchers have discovered (in preparation for publication) that organic production and conventional production are comparable in terms of nitrogen losses during production, but in terms of newly created reactive nitrogen, organic systems have less impact on the environment. That said, the research certainly won't harm the organic industry and could help convince undecided farmers to go into organic agriculture. In addition to the peer-reviewed article and report, the team added organic products to the nitrogen footprint calculator, which can be used by individuals and institutions (for example, a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization on the state of biodiversity states that, of the thousands of plant species cultivated for food, fewer than 200 contribute substantially to global food production and only nine represent 66% of total agricultural production). .

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