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The Organic Trade Association
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 Home > The Global Environment
 The Global Environment

There is growing evidence of the beneficial effects of organic practices on the global environment:

Research at the Rodale Institute has shown that organic practices can remove about 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year and sequester it in an acre of farmland. Thus, Rodale estimates that if all 434 million acres of U.S. cropland were converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of eliminating 217 million cars—nearly 88 percent of all cars in the country today and more than a third of all the automobiles in the world.
Source: Tim J. LaSalle and Paul Hepperly, Regenerative Organic Farming: A Solution to Global Warming, Rodale Institute, 2008.



A four-year study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology found that organic agriculture is helpful in protecting soils and conserving wildlife. The study, representing the work of over 400 scientists and 30 governments and NGOs, grew out of discussions by the World Bank and the Food and Agricultural Association of the United Nations about the need for an international assessment of the role of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology in “reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural livelihoods, and facilitating environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable development.
Source:, 2008.
A nine-year study by USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers at Beltsville, MD, has shown that organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than conventional no-till farming can, according to results published in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
Source: “No Shortcuts in Checking Soil Health,”


Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land, according to researchers from the University of Michigan. In addition to equal or greater yields, the authors found those yields could be accomplished using existing quantities of organic fertilizers and without putting more farmland into production.
Source: “Organic agriculture and the global food supply,” Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (2007) 22: 86-108.


The Long-Term Agricultural Research (LTAR) initiative funded by The Leopold Center in Iowa has shown greater yield, increased profitability, and steadily improved soil quality in organic over conventional rotations in grain-based cropping systems, according to an article in the Summer 2007 Leopold Letter. The initiative, begun in 1998, is being conducted at the Neely-Kinyon Research Farm near Greenfield, IA. The research tests whether organic systems relying on inputs such as composted manure can promote stable yields, soil quality, and plant protection. Results are then compared with a corn-soybean rotation supported by greater levels of inputs such as fossil-based fuels.
Source: Leopold Letter, published by The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Summer 2007.

Reiterating the value of organic agriculture, a report from the July 2000 FAO Regional Conference for Europe pointed out that organic farming can help reduce ground and surface water contamination, and can safeguard drinking water supplies.
Source: "Food Safety and Quality as Affected by Organic Farming," 22nd FAO Regional Conference for Europe, Porto, Portugal, July 24-28, 2000, Agenda Item 10.1.



Organically grown crops use less fossil energy than conventional crops, according to findings from a 21-year field trial initiated by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland. Begun in 1978 in Therwil, Switzerland, the DOK trial compares the consequences of organic, biodynamic, and conventional farming systems in a randomized plot trial.
Source: FiBL Dossier: Organic farming enhances soil fertility and biodiversity, August 2000.



Organic methods are as efficient, economical and financially competitive as conventional methods, and better for the soil and the environment, according to a report documenting findings from the Rodale Institute’s long-term Farming Systems Trial™ comparing crops under conventional and organic management. A report looking at the first 15 years of the trial shows that after a transitional period of about four years, crops grown under organic systems yield as well as, and sometimes better than, those grown conventionally. In years of drought, organic systems can actually out-produce conventional systems. In addition, organic systems showed significant ability to absorb and retain carbon, raising the possibility that agricultural practices might play a role in reducing the impact of global warming.
Source: The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial™: The First 15 Years, by Cass Petersen, Laurie E. Drinkwater, and Peggy Wagoner, the Rodale Institute, 1999.



In Germany, several water utilities pay farmers to switch to organic operations because such conversion costs less than removing farm chemicals used in conventional agriculture from water supplies.
Source: "Deep Trouble: The Hidden Threat of Groundwater Pollution," by Payal Sampat, Worldwatch Paper 154, December 2000.


There is also growing evidence that popular practices are negatively impacting the global environment:


Research performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Environmental Sciences division revealed that hypoxia, a fatal condition that affects thousands of fish, shrimp, and shellfish in the Gulf of Mexico each year, is partly the result of fertilizer run-off from agricultural activities in the Mississippi basin.  The run-off, along with the temperature differentials created when the warm water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers come into contact with the cold Gulf waters, forms a deadly combination whereby algae grows, dies, decomposes and uses up the oxygen the aforementioned organisms need for survival. To combat this problem, and reduce phosphorus production, which is also seen as a contributing factor in the rise of hypoxia, researchers have proposed increasing the use of environmentally sustainable biofuel, improving nutrient management, and restoring wetlands in the affected areas.
Source:, 2008.


Canadian researchers have found that the toxic pesticide DDT still is having damaging effects on birds despite being banned in the United States and Canada for the past three decades. Andrew Iwaniuk, lead author of a study published in Behavioural Brain Research reported that robins’ eggs that had been exposed to the pesticide during development resulted in birds with up to 30 percent less tissue in certain areas of their brains. As a result, they were unable to sing complicated songs, defend their territory or build nests properly. Iwaniuk, who is with the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta, estimated that at least 15 to 20 generations of robins have been adversely affected since the pesticide was first applied.
Source: “The effects of environmental exposure to DDT on the brain of a songbird: Changes in structures associated with mating and song" (Behavioral Brain Research, online edition, July 7, 2006)

Nearly 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded, undermining both present and future production capacity, according to scientists at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Land degradation can have significant on- and off-site effects on income and environmental quality, and can take a number of forms, including soil nutrient depletion, agrochemical pollution, and soil erosion.
Sources: "Land Degradation in the Developing World: Issues and Policy Options for 2020," by Sara J. Scherr and Satya Yadav, in The Unfinished Agenda: Perspectives on Overcoming Hunger, Poverty and Environmental Degradation, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2001. Also, "Resources, Technology, and Public and Private Choices," by Keith Wiebe, in Who Will Be Fed in the 21st Century? Challenges for Science and Policy, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2001.


In a study published in Science, scientists headed by University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman concluded that continued expansion of the industrial farming model for the next few decades "has the potential to have massive, irreversible environmental impacts." Extrapolating past trends in land, irrigation and agrochemical use and assuming a human population that is wealthier and 50 percent larger than currently, scientists predicted that in 50 years, there would be a 2.4 to 2.7-fold increase in nitrogen- and phosphorus-driven eutrophication of terrestrial, fresh water and near-shore marine ecosystems, seriously degrading biodiversity and fishery yields. The study also concluded that humans and other organisms would be exposed to markedly elevated levels of pesticides.
Source: Science, April 13, 2001, cited in WorldWatch, September/October 2001, page 8.


A global survey of groundwater pollution shows that a toxic brew of pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers, industrial chemicals, and heavy metals is fouling groundwater everywhere. "Groundwater contamination is an irreversible act that will deprive future generations of one of life’s basic resources," according to Payal Sampat in a Worldwatch paper. Groundwater contamination is already widespread, from high levels of pesticides in wells in California’s San Joaquin Valley to excessive nitrates in groundwater in four northern Chinese provinces. The paper notes that in China’s Yunnan Province, farmers are trying to address the problem by eliminating the use of fungicides and planting more diverse varieties of the grain.
Source: "Deep Trouble: The Hidden Threat of Groundwater Pollution," by Payal Sampat, Worldwatch Paper 154, December 2000.

Organic Trade Association, October 2008. 

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