Scotland | Organic Farming, Agroforestry Best for Emissions Reductions

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“The highest single emissions reduction opportunity identified is organic farming”. That’s according to a report, published in November called Delivering on Net Zero: Scottish Agriculture.

Read Delivering on Net Zero: Scottish Farming

Commissioned by the WWF Scotland, researchers Nic Lampkin, Laurence Smith, Katrin Padel from Organic Policy, Business and Research Consultancy, studied 37 different measures which could help Scottish Agriculture reduce its carbon footprint.

These 37 measures were housed under the following headings:

  • Improved nitrogen fertiliser use
  • Improved use and integration of organic manures and slurries
  • Improved soil management
  • Improved crop selection and management
  • Improved mechanisation
  • Improved livestock management and genetics
  • Improved manure management
  • Improved systems design
  • Reducing food losses and food waste

The aim of this study was to identify whether, how and at what cost agricultural GHG emissions in Scotland could be reduced by 35% by 2045. If taken up fully, these “could reduce Scottish agricultural emissions by almost 100%. In practice, there are many reasons why measures might not be implemented in combination, or adopted, by all farmers” the report states.

Changes in nitrogen fertilizer use, and, concurrently, the integration of legumes, were listed as the most impactful of the options.

Other high achieving changes included “reducing methane emissions associated with ruminants by using feed additives including 3NOP, nitrates, probiotics, high dietary fat sources and seaweed derivatives” (However this would require approval of 3NOP as a feed additive so that it can be marketed, and that at an affordable price.” the report cautions).

Organic farming was considered part of the improved systems design category, as was agroforestry. Of the 37 specific measures available to farmers in Scotland for uptake, organic farming and agroforestry displayed the greatest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming.

“Organic farming, with 40% uptake, could potentially deliver 730 kt CO2e reductions or 27% of the target. This is a result of combining no synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use with an overall 10% reduction in livestock numbers and the conversion of 20% of tillage land to rotational grassland.”

This conversion to rotational grassland from tillage “mitigates the stocking rate reductions, so that cattle and sheep numbers fall by 10% and other livestock numbers are assumed to remain constant, with the additional grassland used to support free range production.”

Typical organic farming practices such as use of cover crops, grain legumes in crop rotations and in grassland, and composting) were considered as mostly N reducing measures and counted separately, to avoid double counting.

“The financial impacts of these changes are reduced due to the premium markets for organic food” the authors note.

Agroforestry also offered potential for substantial reductions: “570 kt (21% of the target) with 30% uptake. This is assuming 10% of farmland is used for trees, with consequent output reductions for crops and livestock, although with some scope to mitigate this.”

“Improved animal health and breeding, with increased fertility, growth rates and yields, and reduced morbidity/mortality could reduce total livestock numbers needed to deliver the same output, and deliver 366 kt emission reductions (14% of the target) with 40-50% uptake” it finds.

It’s not all good news for organic farming and agroforestry however.

“ Despite their emission reduction potential, organic farming and agroforestry both have the disadvantages of higher initial investment costs, greater complexity acting as a disincentive to adoption and longer lead-in times, as well as output reductions that, if demand remains unchanged, could lead to an increased requirement for imports and increased emissions elsewhere.”

These fears are somewhat assuaged as “the widespread adoption of these approaches would need to be considered in the context of changing human and animal diets, and the potential for reducing food losses and waste” the report states.

Policy interventions would be needed to encourage the adoption of all recommended measures, the authors’ found, as the market alone is unlikely to drive them.

More on organic farming

What would really happen to GHG Emissions if England and Wales went Organic?

Comparing Organic, Agroecological and Regenerative Farming part 1 – Organic

Dig a Little Deeper | Organics, Compost and Carbon

Anders Borgen | Nurd of the Niche

Vertical Farming Shoots…Organic in the Foot?

Stefan Doeblin Talks Organic Seeds

Organic Livestock Farming is for the Birds!


Oliver Moore
About Oliver Moore 188 Articles
DR. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Oliver voyage beaucoup moins qu’auparavant, pour ce qui concerne son activitĂ© professionnelle. Il peut nĂ©anmoins admirer par la fenĂŞtre de son bureau les mĂ©sanges charbonnières et les corbeaux perchĂ©s au sommet du saule dans le jardin de sa maison au cĹ“ur de l’écovillage de Cloughjordan, en Irlande. L’écovillage est un site de 67 acres dans le nord du Tipperary. Il comprend d’espaces boisĂ©s, des paysages comestibles, des lieux de vie, d’habitation et de travail, ainsi qu’une ferme appartenant Ă  la communautĂ©. Les jours oĂą il travaille dans le bureau du centre d’entreprise communautaire, il profite d’une vue sur les chevaux, les panneaux solaires, les toilettes sèches et les jardins familiaux.  Ce bureau au sein de l’écovillage constitue en effet un tiers-lieu de travail accueillant Ă©galement des collaborateurs des associations Cultivate et Ecolise, ainsi qu’un laboratoire de fabrication (« fab lab »).  Oliver est membre du conseil d’administration de la ferme communautaire (pour la seconde fois !) et donne Ă©galement des cours sur le Master en coopĂ©ratives, agroalimentaire et dĂ©veloppement durable Ă  l’University College Cork. Il a une formation en sociologie rurale : son doctorat et les articles qu’il publie dans des journaux scientifiques portent sur ce domaine au sens large. Il consacre la majoritĂ© de son temps de travail Ă  l’ARC 2020. Il collabore avec ARC depuis 2013, date Ă  laquelle l’Irlande a assurĂ© la prĂ©sidence de l’UE pendant six mois. C’est lĂ  qu’il a pu constater l’importance de la politique agroalimentaire et rurale grâce Ă  sa chronique hebdomadaire sur le site d’ARC. Après six mois, il est nommĂ© rĂ©dacteur en chef et responsable de la communication, poste qu’il occupe toujours aujourd’hui. Oliver supervise le contenu du site web et des mĂ©dias sociaux, aide Ă  dĂ©finir l’orientation de l’organisation et parfois mĂŞme rĂ©dige un article pour le site web.  Ă€ l’époque oĂą on voyageait davantage, il a eu la chance de passer du temps sous les tropiques, oĂą il a aidĂ© des ONG irlandaises de commerce Ă©quitable – au Ghana, au Kenya, au Mali, en Inde et au Salvador – Ă  raconter leur histoire.  Il se peut que ces jours-lĂ  reviennent. Pour son compte Oliver continuera de prĂ©fĂ©rer naviguer en Europe par bateau, puis en train. Après tout, la France n’est qu’à une nuit de navigation. En attendant, il y a toujours de nombreuses possibilitĂ©s de bĂ©nĂ©volat dans la communautĂ© dans les campagnes du centre de l’Irlande.