Organic Ag Missing from State Research

When Organic Agriculture Goes Missing, State Research Misses Climate Solutions

Few would argue in 2010 that organic farming is a fringe sector of our agricultural industry.  But at a recent meeting at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), organic agriculture’s insignificance was the reason given for the lack of inclusion of organic farming systems in the state’s effort to understand how farming practices affect nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions.

CARB, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are funding UC Davis and CSU Fresno researchers to establish the current baseline emissions of N2O, a potent greenhouse gas, from California agriculture.  Over three years, the researchers will monitor fluxes of N2O emissions from the soils of a variety of cropping systems (e.g. tomatoes, corn silage, cotton, etc).

The work will eventually lead to understanding how cropping systems under different management scenarios can affect GHG emissions, and how altering farming practices may help reduce emissions in the future.  Only one field in this research effort is under organic management, the rest are conventional operations that rely upon synthetic fertilizers, a major source of N20 emissions.

Why should organic agriculture have a prominent role in the state’s nitrous oxide emission study?  Because science and economics tell us it makes good sense.

Researchers from state universities to the United Nations have found that organic farming systems offer some of the best approaches to reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint.  By limiting the inclusion of organic field sites in the state’s research effort, we miss the significant opportunity to further our understanding of how organic farming systems can help California reach its goal of reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The argument that organic farming is simply not a significant part of California agriculture and, therefore, does not merit inclusion in the research effort is simply wrong.

Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of California’s agricultural economy.  California leads the country in the number of organic operations with nearly 2,900 certified organic farms and ranches in 2008, up from 900 certified operations in 2000.  California organic farmgate sales now top $1 billion dollars.

The state should focus research efforts on understanding how the use of synthetic fertilizers may contribute to California’s GHG emissions, but we must also look at alternatives, like organic agriculture, to understand how ecological, integrated approaches to farming can offer climate solutions.

And it is not too late.  Organic field trials can be incorporated into the state’s three-year N2O research effort – but it will take state government leadership to make that happen.

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