Organic tackles 'existential threat' of climate change

A new report from the Organic Trade Association addresses climate change and what organic can do to mitigate the danger.

Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC

Climate change poses a major and immediate danger to the planet, and organic farmers can play a vital role in mitigating the threat, a Montana organic farmer says.

"Extreme weather variability, caused by climate change, is the greatest challenge facing farmers," said Doug Crabtree, a Havre, Mont., farmer and a director of the board of the Organic Trade Association, or OTA, which represents more than 9,500 organic businesses nationwide. Its members include growers, shippers, certifiers, farmers associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others.

The OTA has released a white paper, "Advancing Organic to Mitigate Climate Change," that contains 10 priorities for climate change policy:

  • Advance organic agriculture.
  • Are science-based, data-driven and verifiable.
  • Focus on outcomes and continuous improvement.
  • Promote soil health and carbon sequestration.
  • Lower the use of fossil-fuel based chemicals.
  • Provide solutions for mitigation and adaptation.
  • Incentivize farmers and businesses.
  • Decarbonize the economy.
  • Foster agricultural diversity and innovation.
  • Address equity and inclusion.
  • The use of synthetic nitrogen, in particular, is a major contributor to climate change, Crabtree said.

    The report has a number of specific policy recommendations. They include establishing a national program to support transition for organic farmers, develop a competitive grant program to provide technical services to organic and transitioning farmers, and creating a federal Healthy Soils pilot program.


    Climate change stance

    Climate change is a controversial issue in agriculture, with many agriculturalists questioning its validity, especially the belief that human activity is primarily responsible. The organic industry report is clear on its stance:

    "Climate change poses an existential threat to our world, and bold policy solutions are needed to mitigate the impacts and help farmers and communities adapt to the changing climate," the report said.

    "The predominant cause of climate change is anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion are the primary contributor to climate change, mainly due to the impacts of the electric power and transportation sector," according to the report.

    Further, "Agriculture is a contributor to climate change, representing almost 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States Agriculture also contributes indirectly to greenhouse gas emissions in the electric power sector by driving the demand for manufacturing fossil fuel-based ammonia fertilizer," the report said.

    The report made a sharp distinction in how organic and conventional agriculture affect climate change.

    "Organic agriculture is distinct from conventional farming systems in its role in climate change. Whereas agriculture overall is a significant contributor to climate change and highly susceptible to its damaging impacts, organic agriculture is uniquely positioned to improve agricultural practices and outcomes that can help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change," according to the report.

    Crabtree said it's time to quit arguing over whether climate change is real and whether human activity is the primary cause. Instead, agriculturalists need to do what they can to address the problem.

    To read the report and learn more about the OTA and climate change:

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