Organic farming decreases greenhouse gas emissions: the key message, not the Key message

Prime Minister John Key has stated on a number of Soil Pictureoccasions that technologies are not available for agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: New Zealand will lift its reduction target as soon as technologies become available.

He is quite wrong. Organic farming reduces emissions and if New Zealand predominantly farmed organically, we could achieve emissions targets we would be proud of.

Organic farming works with the ancient symbiotic cycle of soil micro-organisms converting organic and in-organic components in the soil to nutrition for plants, while plants provide exudates and decaying organic material to feed soil micro-organisms. As part of this ongoing process, carbon is taken from the atmosphere and sequestered in the soil (both short and long term), and thereby offsets other carbon emissions.

The process requires a variety of pasture plants, small trees and trees, not a plant mono-culture. In animal farming, it requires animals to ‘prune’ pasture as well as providing animal effluent to feed micro-organisms. Those animals need to be properly rotated so that soil is not compacted and plants are pruned, rather than grazed to the point of poor plant health.

In horticulture it requires pruning and recycling of prunings onto the soil. In cropping, it requires no or minimal tillage.

In all farming, it requires sound knowledge and practices of composting, actively aerated compost tea application, plant extract application and mycorrhizal fungi inoculation. In all farming it requires trees to be incorporated into the farm so their roots can access minerals deep for redistribution to shorter rooted plants and so carbon can be stored in their woody biomass.

Animals will continue to emit methane, as they have done for millions of years, but these emissions can be offset by carbon sequestration in the soil. Methane emissions can be reduced by correct levels of fibre in animal diet, herbs within the pasture mix, addition of charcoal to stock feed and even not dehorning animals.

Urea, super phosphate, other chemical fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are key parts of conventional farm management in New Zealand. In organic farming they are all banned. The reason is simple: they kill soil micro-organisms. If there are no soil-micro-organisms, then the symbiotic cycle described above cannot work.

In addition to addressing greenhouse gas issues, organic farming improves water quality, decreases soil erosion and produces food without toxic chemical residues. And is has been established that organic farming can be carried on profitably.

No research or technological breakthrough is needed for organic farming – management experience and knowledge already exists and in practiced by a small number of farmers in New Zealand (mostly being members of BioGro, OrganicFarmNZ, Biodynamic Farmers of NZ, Te Waka Kai Ora and Organic Winegrowers NZ). Reference can be made to the work of Dr Elaine Ingham and the Rodale Institute in USA and Dr Christine Jones in Australia.

Switching to organic farming really is a no brainer. Perhaps it’s time to ignore Key messages and focus on key organic messages.

Tony Banks
30 November 2015

Comments are closed.