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Transitioning to Organic to Combat Climate Change

Organic farmers are the only farmers required by law to conserve soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. Maintaining these natural resources is critical because organic farmers rely on nutrients in the soil instead of synthetic fertilizers to feed their crops, and they use ecological rather than chemical methods to control pests, weeds, and disease. Not only is building ecological balance good for farmers’ bottom line, but it is also a key climate strategy.

Long-term studies demonstrate the climate benefits of organic. A University of California-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 conventional system. Nationally, the largest study comparing organic and conventional soils in 48 states found that organic farms have 13% higher soil organic matter than conventional farms.

If organic is a solution to climate change, why aren’t more farmers transitioning? In part, it’s because transitioning land to organic is tough. To transition land to organic, farmers and ranchers cannot apply prohibited materials, including synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, to the land for three years prior to their first organic harvest. Farmers do not receive the premium organic price during this three-year transition period, and can experience yield losses and higher costs as the soil adjusts to ecological management and the farmer learns and invests in new practices. Ranchers face a higher cost of feed and new animal healthcare requirements that focus on preventative rather than diagnostic care.

CCOF is working to support more transition to organic to combat climate change. CCOF Foundation is currently giving $10,000 grants to small-scale farmers and farmers from the Latinx communities in the Central Coast of California to transition to organic with the intention of expanding this grant program to other socially disadvantaged farmer communities. The CCOF policy team is building on the Foundation’s grant program by advocating for state investment in California to support:

  • Direct assistance for farmers and ranchers to implement multiple organic practices that build healthy soils while offsetting the economic risk of transitioning
  • Organic research, mentorship, and technical assistance that optimize organic systems and support a diversity of farmers and ranchers to go organic
  • Expansion of markets for organic food, creating opportunities for new and existing organic farmers and ranchers

CCOF is also working closely with the Organic Trade Association to support organic transition at USDA. Throughout our efforts, we are pushing for investment in technical assistance and market development to support all organic producers. We are excited to partner with farmers and ranchers to realize organic’s full potential as a climate solution. Learn more at

This article was prepared by Rebekah Weber, CCOF Policy Director.

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.
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.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 Organic Report, you can view the full magazine here.