Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farming

Andreas Gattinger, Adrian Muller, Matthias Haeni, Colin Skinner, Andreas Fliessbach, Nina Buchmann, Paul Maeder, Matthias Stolze, Pete Smith, Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, Urs Niggli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

499 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that conversion to organic farming contributes to soil carbon sequestration, but until now a comprehensive quantitative assessment has been lacking. Therefore, datasets from 74 studies from pairwise comparisons of organic vs. nonorganic farming systems were subjected to metaanalysis to identify differences in soil organic carbon (SOC). We found significant differences and higher values for organically farmed soils of 0.18 +/- 0.06% points (mean +/- 95% confidence interval) for SOC concentrations, 3.50 +/- 1.08 Mg C ha(-1) for stocks, and 0.45 +/- 0.21 Mg C ha(-1) y(-1) for sequestration rates compared with nonorganic management. Metaregression did not deliver clear results on drivers, but differences in external C inputs and crop rotations seemed important. Restricting the analysis to zero net input organic systems and retaining only the datasets with highest data quality (measured soil bulk densities and external C and N inputs), the mean difference in SOC stocks between the farming systems was still significant (1.98 +/- 1.50 Mg C ha-1), whereas the difference in sequestration rates became insignificant (0.07 +/- 0.08 Mg C ha(-1) y(-1)). Analyzing zero net input systems for all data without this quality requirement revealed significant, positive differences in SOC concentrations and stocks (0.13 +/- 0.09% points and 2.16 +/- 1.65 Mg C ha(-1), respectively) and insignificant differences for sequestration rates (0.27 +/- 0.37 Mg C ha(-1) y(-1)). The data mainly cover top soil and temperate zones, whereas only few data from tropical regions and subsoil horizons exist. Summarizing, this study shows that organic farming has the potential to accumulate soil carbon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18226-18231
Number of pages6
Issue number44
Early online date15 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2012


  • climate change
  • soil quality
  • agricultural systems


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