Organic Farming Methods Create Significantly Less Nitrogen Pollution Than Conventional Farming

Organic Farming Methods Create Significantly Less Nitrogen Pollution Than Conventional Farming
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Organic farming does more for the environment than just reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides. According to new research, it can help reduce global nitrogen pollution as well.

New research conducted by The University of Virginia and The Organic Center concluded that organic farming not only recycles nitrogen, but it also creates less reactive nitrogen in the environment, which is critical for pollution reduction.

The study looked at nitrogen pollution produced by both conventional and organic farms. Both farm circumstances contribute to soil nitrogen loss as a result of the crop systems, but organic farming fared better in preventing nitrogen pollution, preventing three times the amount of reactive nitrogen than traditional farming methods.

“Agriculture adds a large amount of nitrogen into the environment during the food production process,” Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center, said in a statement. “This very timely research shows that many common organic farming practices, like composting and the use of manure fertilization in place of synthetic fertilizers, can recycle reactive nitrogen already in the global system rather than introducing new reactive nitrogen into the environment. Organic farming thus has a much smaller environmental impact on the global scale.”

The researchers also noted that 93 percent of nitrogen from conventional food production was newly created reactive nitrogen as compared to 33 percent from organic foods.

Reactive nitrogen is necessary for plant and animal growth, but in excess, as in the massive amounts of synthetic fertilizer used in commercial agriculture, the effects may be significantly damaging to the environment.

The Organic Center notes that reactive nitrogen contributes to the production of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s 300 times more damaging than CO2.

“Nitrous oxide can enter the stratosphere and eat away at the ozone; it’s an important contributor to ozone depletion right now,” the Center noted. “Reactive nitrogen forms smog and contributes to acid rain when converted to nitric acid.”

Nitrogen runoff in waterways causes toxic algal blooms that can create large Dead Zones, killing hundreds of thousands of marine animals.

“This research shows that rather than converting benign nitrogen into polluting nitrogen,” notes Dr. Tracy Misiewicz, Associate Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center, “organic farming practices overwhelmingly recycle reactive nitrogen instead of introducing new reactive nitrogen into our environment.” 

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.