Most people have heard that organically-grown foods are healthier, but did you know that they conserve the environment too? According to Cornell University ecology and agriculture professor, David Pimentel, “Organic farming approaches for these crops [corn and soybeans] not only use an average of 30 percent less fossil energy but also conserve more water in the soil, induce less erosion, maintain soil quality and conserve more biological resources than conventional farming does,”
Agricultural studies have shown that at least 33% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions are caused by agriculture and by the expansion and cultivation of pastures. However, organic farming methods reduce energy consumption by simplifying the distribution and treatment of drinking water and waste water. Although organic farming doesn’t entirely eliminate pesticides from our water sources, it does help reduce runoff waste that contains chemicals that threaten your health.
It takes about ten calories of fossil fuel energy to yield one calorie of food energy. Our world has been running low on fossil fuels for many years now, however, organic farms can potentially become self-sufficient in energy. On average, organically grown crops use about 25% less energy than conventional crops infused with chemicals.
Organic farming practices, like cover crops and buffer strips, preserve soil quality and indirectly conserve water sources. By utilizing organic wastes with on-farm composting, farmers implement the slow release of essential nutrients back into the soil. Organic farmers are dedicated to improving the natural health of plants and soil, thereby reducing future risks of weeds, pests, and disease.
However, the energy-saving effectiveness does vary by crop type and by location. The energy input to output ratio is impressive for crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, and barley. However, crops that have greater pest problems, like potatoes, apples, and grapes, have shown to be a little more challenging. Less industrialized countries around the world stand to benefit the most by switching to organic methods. For example, Brazil’s maize and wheat crop yields and Mexico’s coffee crops yields doubled after dropping chemical fertilizers.
To learn more about how organic farming reduces energy waste, check out Pimentel’s book “Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems: Benefits and Risks.” The site sustainabletable.org also offers well-researched suggestions for making agriculture a more productive and efficient practice.