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Sustainability 2011, 3(2), 322-362; doi:10.3390/su3020322
Review

The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World?

1,* , 2
 and 3
Received: 2 December 2010; in revised form: 19 January 2011 / Accepted: 24 January 2011 / Published: 28 January 2011
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Sustainability after Global Fossil Energy Depletion)
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Abstract: About 130 studies were analyzed to compare farm-level energy use and global warming potential (GWP) of organic and conventional production sectors. Cross cutting issues such as tillage, compost, soil carbon sequestration and energy offsets were also reviewed. Finally, we contrasted E and GWP data from the wider food system. We concluded that the evidence strongly favours organic farming with respect to whole-farm energy use and energy efficiency both on a per hectare and per farm product basis, with the possible exception of poultry and fruit sectors. For GWP, evidence is insufficient except in a few sectors, with results per ha more consistently favouring organic farming than GWP per unit product. Tillage was consistently a negligible contributor to farm E use and additional tillage on organic farms does not appear to significantly deplete soil C. Energy offsets, biogas, energy crops and residues have a more limited role on organic farms compared to conventional ones, because of the nutrient and soil building uses of soil organic matter, and the high demand for organic foods in human markets. If farm E use represents 35% of total food chain E use, improvements shown of 20% or more in E efficiency through organic farm management would reduce food-chain E use by 7% or more. Among other food supply chain stages, wholesale/retail (including cooling and packaging) and processing often each contribute 30% or more to total food system E. Thus, additional improvements can be obtained with reduced processing, whole foods and food waste minimization.
Keywords: GHG; GWP; organic farming; conventional farming and food systems; energy efficiency; biofuels GHG; GWP; organic farming; conventional farming and food systems; energy efficiency; biofuels
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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MDPI and ACS Style

Lynch, D.H.; MacRae, R.; Martin, R.C. The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World? Sustainability 2011, 3, 322-362.

AMA Style

Lynch DH, MacRae R, Martin RC. The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World? Sustainability. 2011; 3(2):322-362.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Lynch, Derek H.; MacRae, Rod; Martin, Ralph C. 2011. "The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World?" Sustainability 3, no. 2: 322-362.


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