Can organic farming help to reduce N-losses?: Experiences from Denmark

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This study is in two parts. In the first part, nitrogen (N) losses per unit of milk and meat in Danish conventional and organic pig and dairy farming were compared on the basis of farm data. In the second part, organic and conventional dairy farming were compared in detail, using modelling. N-surpluses at different livestock densities, fodder intensities, and soil types were simulated. Finally, simulated N-surpluses were used in national scenarios for conversion to organic dairy farming in Denmark. In Part one, pig farming was found to have a higher N-efficiency than dairy farming. Organic pig production had a lower N-efficiency and a higher N-surplus per kg meat than conventional pig production. The possibilities to reduce N-loss by conversion to organic pig production therefore appear to be poor. Organic dairy farming had a higher N-efficiency and a lower N-surplus per kg milk than conventional dairy farming. Conversion from conventional to organic dairy farming may therefore reduce N-losses. In Part two, a positive correlation between livestock density and N-surplus ha−1 was found for dairy farming. For all simulated livestock densities, fodder feeding intensities and soil types, organic systems showed a lower N-surplus per unit of milk produced than conventional systems. National scenarios for dairy farming showed that the present Danish milk production could be achieved with a 24% lower total N-surplus if converted from intensive conventional farming to extensive organic farming. At the same time, N-surplus ha−1 and N-surplus (t milk)−1 would be lowered by 50% and 25% respectively. Changing from intensive to extensive conventional dairy farming with a livestock density equal to that in the organic scenario resulted in a reduction in N-surplus ha−1 of 15%. It was concluded that a reduction in total N-loss from agriculture is possible by converting from conventional to organic dairy farming but at the cost of either lower production on the present dairy farm area, or the current production on a substantially larger area.

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