The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has established a new goal that 20 percent of California’s cultivated land be farmed organically by 2045. CARB, the arm of California charged with fighting climate change, has set this goal after hearing from CCOF and partners on the 30 years of peer-reviewed research demonstrating the climate benefits of organic agriculture.
The Climate Benefits of Organic
- Based on modeling climate strategies, CARB found that increased organic adoption corresponds with increased carbon storage.1
- A UC Davis Long-Term Research on Agricultural Systems study found that after 10 years, organic systems resulted in 14 times the rate of carbon sequestration as the non-organic system.2
- Nationally, the largest study comparing organic and non-organic soils in 48 states found that organic farms have 13 percent higher soil organic matter. Significantly higher soil organic matter allows organic soils to store more carbon. 3
- The Rodale Farming Systems Trial, which is the longest-running organic comparison study in the United States, documented that after 22 years, soil organic carbon increased by 15 to 28 percent in organic soils compared to 9 percent in non-organic soils. 4
- Globally, peer-reviewed evidence shows that organically managed soils hold more carbon and have higher rates of carbon sequestration than soils from non-organic systems. 5
California’s new organic target not only integrates the latest science, but also reflects growing demand for organic food. The University of California Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics concludes in a 2021 report that “as the market for organic foods expands—based on trends to date—California is well-placed to continue to increase organic production and remain the U.S. leader.” 6
Organic Market Trends
- Nationwide demand for organic has increased on average by 9 percent per year over the last decade. 7
- Sales of organic processed foods in California more than doubled between 2020 and 2021, jumping from $14.8 billion to $34.5 billion8 and expanded opportunities for farmers to sell their crops to organic food manufacturers.
- The United States imported $25 billion of organic crops in 2020, up 42 percent from 2016. In 2021, the United States imported $649 million worth of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, avocados, and peppers, all of which are grown in California. 9
- Institutions are ramping up organic procurement. California’s Farm to School Program incentivizes schools to purchase organic foods to serve their students10, and hospitals like Kaiser are setting ambitious procurement targets to increase food purchases from local farms that use sustainable practices. 11
CARB’s recognition of the climate and economic opportunities of organic agriculture paves the way for existing organic farmers to grow their operations and for more farmers and ranchers to transition to organic to meet the growing demand for organic food and support California’s climate strategy.
1 California Air Resources Board. (2022). 2022 Scoping plan update: Initial modeling results. 2022 Scoping Plan Update Initial Modeling Results (March 15, 2022) (ca.gov).
2 Kong, A. Y., Six, J., Bryant, D. C., Denison, R. F., & Van Kessel, C. (2005). The relationship between carbon input, aggregation, and soil organic carbon stabilization in sustainable cropping systems. Soil Sci Soc Am J., 69, 1078–1085.
3 Ghabbour, E. A., Davies, G., Misiewicz, T., Alami, R. A., Askounis, E. M., Cuozzo, N. P., ... Shade, J. (2017). Chapter one—National comparison of the total and sequestered organic matter contents of conventional and organic farm soil. Advances in Agronomy, 146, 1–35.
4 Pimentel, D., Hepperly, P., Hanson, J., Douds, D., & Seidel, R. (2005). Environmental, energetic and economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. Bioscience, 55(7), 573–583.
5 Gattinger, A., Muller, A., Haeni, M., Skinner, C., Fliessbach, A., Buchmann, N., ... Niggli, U. (2012). Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farming. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 109, 18226–18231.
6 Goodhue, R., Muramoto, J., Sumner, D., & Wei, H. (2021). California’s organic agriculture: Diverse and growing. Agriculture and Resource Economics: Update, 24(2) Nov/Dec 2021. https://s.giannini.ucop.edu/uploads/pub/2021/12/20/v25n2_QjY8JJ1.pdf
7 Organic Trade Association. (2022). Organic industry survey. https://ota.com/organic-market-overview/organic-industry-survey
8 California Department of Public Health. (2022). Organic processed product registration program report. https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CEH/DFDCS/CDPH%20Document%20Library/FDB/FoodSafetyProgram/Organic/CDPHOrganicReport2022.pdf
9 United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service Global Agricultural Trade System. Searchable databases, GATS home. https://apps.fas.usda.gov/GATS/default.aspx
10 California Department of Food and Agriculture, Office of the First Partner. (2022). Planting the seed: Farm to school roadmap for success. https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Farm_To_School_Report_20220222-small.pdf
11 Kaiser. Sustainable food. https://about.kaiserpermanente.org/community-health/improving-community-conditions/environmental-stewardship/sustainable-food#:~:text=By%202025%2C%20we%20will%20buy,party%20certifiers%20as%20being%20sustainable.