Organic Farming Isn't All That Green

A lot of people have been pushing for more farmers to switch to organic farming because they believe it is greener, better for the environment, and produces superior quality food. But if you ask any farmer, they’ll tell you that none of these beliefs are true. The “organic” folks will try to sell you on the idea that farmers don’t want to be bothered with organic farming for several reasons, one of them being that they don’t want to make the effort. But if you talk to the farmers it tends to boil down to one specific reason: They make less money. In some cases, a lot less money. That’s a good way to go out of business.

While the big commercial farms might be willing to lose profit because they are such large operations, the smaller family farms don’t necessarily have that kind of financial wiggle room. However, there are other reasons why organic farming isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. One of the biggest: It isn’t as green as everyone believes it is.

Because yields per acre are lower using organic methods, more land is required to provide the same amount of food. One estimate is that between 16% and 33% more land would be required. That in turn means more labor, more energy (meaning more CO2 generated), and most important, more water.

So land that isn’t presently being used to grow food would need to be converted to farmland, be it grasslands or forests. That removes land acting as a carbon sink into one that will generate more CO2. More land will need to be tilled, planted, and weeded, more pests will need to be removed which means more pesticides (they can be used in organic farming if they are the proper non-persistent type) applied more frequently. More water will be needed to irrigate larger tracts of land, water that will need to be pumped from the source which means more energy to run the pumps. More energy to run the pumps, whether they are electric, or gasoline/diesel powered, means more CO2 generated. All of this only addresses the issues with growing crops. It doesn’t even touch upon raising livestock, assuming the farm is going to go organic in this area as well.

The emissions impact of the meat, milk, and eggs produced from organically raised livestock is more complicated. On the one hand, emissions can increase because animals don’t plump up as fast without hormones, supplements, and conventional feed. That, for instance, grants cattle longer lives in which to belch out methane, another especially powerful greenhouse gas. On the other, allowing animals to spend more of their lives grazing on open grasslands may stimulate additional plant growth that captures more carbon dioxide, while cutting emissions associated with standard feeds.

Raising livestock also requires more land because without using feed, the cattle, sheep, goats, and other ruminants require a lot of grazing land. Farmers will need to grow hay in order to feed the animals during the winter. That means even more land converted to agricultural use. Here in New Hampshire, that means cutting down trees since the state is 85% forest land.

It seems that too many people do not think things through, one of those things being organic farming. They look at only the upsides while devoutly ignoring the downsides. Then again, that’s nothing new and it will continue to be the case as long as people exist.

Now, about that problem some people have with nuclear power……