Reversing Climate Change Achievable by Farming Organically

(Kutztown, PA)  Today Rodale Institute announced the launch of a global campaign to generate public awareness of soil's ability to reverse climate change, but only when the health of the soil is maintained through organic regenerative agriculture. The campaign will call for the restructuring of our global food system with the goal of reversing climate change through photosynthesis and biology.

The white paper, entitled Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming, is the central tool of the campaign.  The paper was penned by Rodale Institute, the independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit agricultural research institute widely recognized as the birthplace of the organic movement in the United States.

The white paper states that "We could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term "regenerative organic agriculture.""

If management of all current cropland shifted to reflect the regenerative model as practiced at the research sites included in the white paper, more than 40% of annual emissions could potentially be captured.  If, at the same time, all global pasture was managed to a regenerative model, an additional 71% could be sequestered.  Essentially, passing the 100% mark means a drawing down of excess greenhouse gases, resulting in the reversal of the greenhouse effect.

Regenerative organic agriculture is comprised of organic practices including (at a minimum): cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation. Conservation tillage, while not yet widely used in organic systems, is a regenerative organic practice integral to soil-carbon sequestration.  Other biological farming systems that use some of these techniques include ecological, progressive, natural, pro-soil, and carbon farming.

"The purpose of our work is singular; we are working to create a massive awakening," said "Coach" Mark Smallwood, Executive Director of Rodale Institute.  "Our founder, J.I. Rodale, had a vision so ambitious that many people wrote him off at the time.  Almost 75 years later, the organic movement is exploding with growth and fierce determination.  But the stakes are much higher in 2014.  J.I. saw that agriculture was heading in a dangerous direction by way of the wide-spread adoption of the use of synthetic chemicals and the industrialization of farming.  He attempted to prevent that transition.  We no longer have the luxury of prevention.  Now we are in the dire situation of needing a cure, a reversal.  We know that correcting agriculture is an answer to climate chaos, and that it hinges on human behavior.  The massive awakening itself is the cure.  The future is underfoot.  It's all about healthy soil."

The Institute supports its claims by explaining that if sequestration rates attained by the cases cited inside the white paper were achieved on crop and pastureland across the globe, regenerative agriculture could sequester more than our current annual carbon dioxide emissions. Even if modest assumptions about soil's carbon sequestration potential are made, regenerative agriculture can easily keep annual emissions to within the desirable range necessary if we are to have a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C by 2020.

"The white paper is to encourage new research, new policy and the rapid expansion of regenerative agricultural methods," said Smallwood.  "The media campaign brings the broader vision to the public much faster.  The idea is to stoke the public outcry that already exists and to validate those who demand these changes be made now.  By engaging the public now, they build the pressure necessary to prevent this call to action from sitting on the desks of scientists and policy-makers, or worse yet, being buried by businesspeople from the chemical industry.  We don't have time to be polite about it."

Below are three excerpts exemplifying the call to action set forth in the white paper.

•    Organically managed soils can convert carbon from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset.  It's nothing new, and it's already happening, but it's not enough.  This is the way we have to farm, period.
•    There's a technology for massive planetary geo-engineering that's tried and tested and available for widespread dissemination right now. It costs little and is adaptable to localities the world over. It can be rolled out tomorrow providing multiple benefits beyond climate stabilization.  It's photosynthesis.
•    The solution is farming like life on Earth matters; farming in a way that restores and even improves on the natural ability of the microbiology present in healthy soil to hold carbon. This kind of farming is called regenerative organic agriculture and it is the solution to climate change we need to implement today.

Since its founding in 1947 by J.I. Rodale, the Rodale Institute has been committed to groundbreaking research in organic agriculture, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating people about how organic is the safest, healthiest option for people and the planet. The Institute is home to the Farming Systems Trial (FST), America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of chemical and organic agriculture. Consistent results from the study have shown that organic yields match or surpass those of conventional farming. In years of drought, organic corn yields are about 30% higher. This year, 2013, marks the 33rd year of the trial. New areas of study at the Rodale Institute include rates of carbon sequestration in chemical versus organic plots, new techniques for weed suppression and organic livestock.


Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest options for people and the planet.


For more information:

CONTACT: Aaron Kinsman
Media Relations Specialist
Mobile: 215-589-2490
Office: 610-683-1427

28 Responses to “Reversing Climate Change Achievable by Farming Organically”

  1. Arturo Vélez

    Biochar can actually sequester CO2 in the soil for millennia, while incrising crop yields twentyfold. I’m surprised you didn’t even mention it…

    • Alastair

      Because bio-char is vastly overrated, doesn’t necessarily improve soil, and the promotion of it could lead to further devastation of our carbon sinks than is already occurring (forests) being chopped down burnt and deposited in the soil — which would be a climate change disaster. Not to mention an ecological disaster.

      • michael

        Biochar is not a carbon sequestration mechanism. It is a structure which promotes the habitat for microbes that enhance plant performance. the surface area of a tablespoon of biochar is equal to the surface of multiple tennis courts.

        Creating biochar with a retort vessel utilizes the gases of the wood that becomes biochar and the fuel to drive off those gases. capturing and using the heat released in that process makes use of the reaction for many activities not limited to warming water for heat, drying tomorrows wood for reaction or storing in tanks for scheduled release.

        there is much waste in timber cutting or “slash” this material can be recycled in biochar production to make more biochar and ash.

        The improvement in the Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) of soils with biochar is profound. this higher CEC increases the usefulness of available nutrients in the soil and strengthens the soil matrix..

        Some areas in agriculture may not be in proximity to timber or other carbonaceous resources. These areas will benefit from applications of biochar for the reasons mentioned above and then some.

        Ultimately, we must find the best uses of the resources and wastes we have available in the biosphere. If applications of biochar enhance microbial life in the soil, it will increase the amount of biology and carbon in the soil. How 100 acres of timber or jungle compares to 100 acres of 8 or more percent of organic matter in the soil is beyond my ability to quantify currently. If we compare the number of acres under cultivation for agronomy, we can see a vast resource of carbon stored underground and expanding from the simple use of biochar and the usual landfill fodder of our age.

        Biochar systems are important to our sustainable uses of resources whether we are aware or not. It is our duty to study and report the findings. it is your duty to act in a sustainable way to insure continued life on the planet and on your farms and gardens.

  2. john rumary

    I completely agree with the White Paper and want to help by Lobbying UK Government to take the lead in ROA. I am connected. Thank you. I am with you 100%. I run an Organic Gardening Facebook Group with long reach on social networks too. I can campaign too.

  3. charlie hitchings

    Maybe somebody should explain all this to Guy McPherson (Nature Bats Last) that the human experiment isn’t completely at it’s last…….
    or maybe this organics to save the earth stuff is just another way avoiding how serious things really are with another distraction.
    I’ve been farming organicly for 45 years and managing a large portion of forest for conservative productivity and sequestration……
    the more I realize what’s happened and happening to the world during this time:
    there is no way I can imagine all that gas, oil, coal, tar, and etc crap
    being productively absorbed by the worlds agricultural land’s
    and forest’s soils.and curing the world at this point. It was all down below for good ecological reasons.
    The general population is too sick to put it all back with a hoe at this point. Good Luck.

  4. Ian Breuser

    This Regenerative Organic Agriculture idea is an excellent one in theory. How will farmers be aided in the high cost of transitioning from chemical intensive agriculture to organic agriculture? It takes a few years before the soil starts giving back.

    • Ash

      It just has to be done. We farmed the world for tens of thousands of year without Chemicals, successfully. Clearly we can do it again, this is how it is meant to be, it is what is natural. It should be the responsibility of the farming community to correct this wrong, it was their own wrong from the start. Also, if they do not correct it, the market will eventually drop them, as more and more people become aware, and only shop organic, and begin to demand it. The myth, that switching to Organic is costly and takes time, is not true, Many farmers have already switched to Organic practices, and their soil is gradually recovering, and they are seeing high profits, and higher yields than with Chemical Farming. its the Chemical farm companies that proliferate these myths, as the real reason they promote these methods is so they can sell their chemicals, and sell their seeds and technology. Its not about healthy, prosperous and high yield farming at all.

  5. Barb Holcomb

    I will print this and give it to farmers that I know. They will not be receptive, but it’s worth a try. Only one garden center here is selling untreated seeds and plants. I’ve asked at many others but the word isn’t general knowledge yet. I doubt we have time to waste. Our US Representative is a climate denier. We have oil wells in towns and next to elementary schools. I’ve been threatened and verbally attacked for even mentioning pollution and climate change. We have 2 colleges and 1 university in a small town. Hard to accept so much stubborn ignorance in general population.

  6. Alastair

    I’m enthusiastic about soil regeneration as a soil improving and as a sequestration strategy but I have to say your White Paper was very light on data. I know the ecology of soil is very complex and only just being studied in a scientific way in terms of cross species interactions of biota and plants and holistic soil health more generally — but surely there is more to say than this?

    One sequestration trial in Thailand (with the highest data point of all the four (count them) ‘global trials’) is marked as “Unreported Crop | Organic” crop.

    “Unreported Crop”, really — that’s science?

  7. Ken Olson

    Attached is an American Society of Agronomy link to a recent featured news release that has links to both SOC sequestration protocol and rate articles. The summary is there and free open access links are provided for readers. The definition of soil organic carbon is key and provided and it is important that any loading of C rich of sediment (deposition) or organic fertilizers or manure be recognized as C that was already stored and needs to be accounted for and can lead to increase SOC stock but it is not sequestered SOC but the land unit plants. Also the application of manure (already stored C) to a land unit can actually increase the release of carbon dioxide from that plot rather than decrease green house gas emissions. However, the SOC stock can be increased. but increase of SOC stock from C loading is not SOC sequestration.

    Cover crops do meet definition and can increase SOC sequestration and suggest that is a treatment that needs to be promoted. Before you challenge the messenger please read the original two articles. You will find both positive and negative points. The Geoderma article will only have free access for 30 more days so you might want to down load it. if interested in the subject. The feature SSSAJ review and analysis article is permanently open access. While the article challenges the paired comparison method used to determine SOC sequestration rates for a simple switch to no tillage (favor pre-treatment measurement of SOC stocks before treatment applied) it also questions the loading of C from outside the land unit and gain in SOC stock should not be called SOC sequestration so both no tillage and organic ammendment treatments have challenges. There are many other benefits to increase SOC stock as well as no-tillage but current published SOC sequestration rates (0.5 Mg C/ha/yr) are too high for a switch from MP to NT. At this point in time less than 10% of farmers continue to use MP so not too many left to switch..


  8. Ash

    This Is awesome, so great to see you all doing this. Where this knowledge needs to be pressed however, is not only the media, but in the Colleges and Schools where agriculture is being taught. Our “future farmers” are being taught how to be “Chemical Farmers” and if you look at where the funding for these Colleges and schools comes from, I would wager you would quickly find the Big Chemical Farming Corporations are flipping the bills, and creating their army of Chemical Farmers from it. There needs to be attention to this, as there is invidious motivations involved here. The shift, needs to be back to Organic and natural technology with nature. We have farmed the world for Tens of Thousands of years, and successfully, why then, is it even necessary to use chemicals at all? Because it is profitable, and become dependent on these chemicals once you start using them. Please focus your vision, and attentions on these Colleges and Schools as well, the best you can!

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  12. Rhonda Keller

    I am an absentee owner of prime Iowa farmland and I have been very concerned about the viability of current farming practices. I also have a son who is a climate scientist in Germany where his research is supported, unlike in the US.

    Current practices for killing cover crops mostly use roundup which is problematic.


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