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In a Climate-Changing World, Organic Farms Yields Better Resilience

Scientists are in agreement that climate change and its effects are well under way, affecting everything from severe weather to sea levels to agriculture. Happily, new research shows that organic farming methods (not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, diversifying crops, etc.) help crops and soil become more resistant to systemic shocks and more resilient to those shocks.

Organic farming: it’s a win-win.

From Solve Climate:

IPCC projections and models used to discuss climate change in the future tense: something we could head off. No more. As we’ve noticed, climate change discussions have switched tenses — glaciers will melt has become glaciers are melting. Agriculture will be stressed has become agriculture is stressed.

There’s a corollary. Talk of climate change prevention has become talk of mitigation and adaptation.

For cities, that means flood walls. For farms, it means a transition to agro-ecological farming methods, ways of farming that harmonize with natural processes rather than relying on external, artificial-or-chemical inputs, or genetic engineering, to increase yields.

That transition will have many benefits.

The first is that it will actually prevent climate change. Organic farming — one way of carrying out agro-ecological farming — has been shown to increase carbon sequestration in soil relative to non-organic methods. Furthermore, extensive research, most recently by agronomist David Pimentel of Cornell, has shown that transitioning to organic and local farming could cut energy inputs into the U.S. food system by 50 percent.

“United States agriculture is driven almost entirely by these non-renewable energy sources. Each person in the country on a per capita consumption basis requires approximately 2,000 liters per year in oil equivalents to supply his/her total food, which accounts for about 19 percent of the total national energy use,” Pimentel said.

In addition to cutting fossil fuel use and decreasing carbon emissions, a shift to organic farming and the resultant increases in carbon sequestration will make agriculture more resilient and more resistant to onrushing anthropogenic climate change.

Resistance and resilience are technical terms: as ecologist Alison Power observes, resistance is a system’s ability to not be affected by a “perturbation,” such as a sudden drought or hurricane. Resilience is the measure of the agricultural system’s ability to respond to a “perturbation” that does affect it—in other words, how quickly it returns to its former level of functioning, or how close to its former level of functioning it can get to.

There is strong evidence that organic-farming systems, which are usually a mix of diverse-plant communities—the furthest thing from the plains of monocultures that are the mainstay of American agriculture—are both more resistant and more resilient than other types of planting systems.

Read the whole article here.


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