Climate-Sustaining Agriculture: Carbon Footprints of Organic and Conventional Onions and Wheat

2016 Annual Report for GW15-012

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $24,980.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Grant Recipient: Washington State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Lynne Carpenter-Boggs
Washington State University

Climate-Sustaining Agriculture: Carbon Footprints of Organic and Conventional Onions and Wheat


This project examines the primary sources or “hotspots” of greenhouse gases (GHG) and assesses the effect of farm size on carbon footprint estimation in organic production system. More sustainable agriculture must be resilient in the face of climate change and reduce GHG on both per-acre and per-unit product bases. Despite a willingness to make personal and professional changes to reduce their climate impacts, farmers may lack the knowledge and tools to make effective choices. This project provides information and tools to growers to empower changes in actions and behaviors that reduce GHG emissions.

This project is analyzing and estimating the carbon footprint of organic onion production on four organic farms of varying sizes in the state of Washington. The primary sources or “hotspots” of GHG, and the effect of farm size on carbon footprint estimation, are being identified and compared. In addition, a comparative study of the carbon footprint of wheat production are being conducted on three farms with split operation of organic and conventional wheat production units.

The specific goal of this project is to use the results of the analyses carried out to further improve carbon footprint calculators (CFC) that are based on farm practices, inputs, infrastructure, and processes. Such a tool can help address the knowledge gaps that exist in the estimation of GHG contributions in organic farming systems and open an array of opportunities for producers to identify and reduce GHG hotspots, partake in the carbon trading industry, and educate their consumers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

There are two primary goals set for this study. These are to:

  • Identify opportunities to reduce farm greenhouse gas emissions in wheat and onion production, and
  • Further improve the CFC by expanding its allowable inputs.

Five performance targets were set in order to achieve the objectives. These are:

  1. Estimate the carbon footprint of organic onion production,
  2. Analyze the effect of farm size on carbon footprint estimation of organic onion production,
  3. Estimate the carbon footprint of organic wheat production,
  4. Determine the difference between the carbon footprint of organic and conventional wheat production,
  5. Educate farmers, consumers, extension agencies, and organic certifiers on ways to reduce GHG emissions.


  1. Data collection on onion study has been carried out in the four identified farms for the study.
  2. Data verification and characterization of the inventories have been completed in two farms. The results are been used to further expand the allowable inputs and irrigation options in OFoot, the organic farming carbon footprint calculator that is now publicly accessible.
  3. A complete calculation of carbon footprint of onion production has been successfully carried out in a large-scale and a small-scale farm. The results indicate that inefficient use of machinery is an unexpectedly significant contributor to the carbon footprint of small scale production.
  4. The results of the findings of the study of the two farms have been presented in two different international conferences, one regional conference, and the centennial celebration of one of our cooperating farms. Below are the citations, details and link to the abstract of the presentation in the conferences:


  1. “Farm size effect in modelling carbon footprint of organic farming systems – case study of two farms in Washington State” at the The International Society for Ecological Modelling Global Conference 2016, Modelling of ecosystem services for improved decision making session, Townson University, Baltimore, MD, May 8-12, 2016

  1. “Identifying Hotspots in the Carbon Footprint of a Small Scale Organic Vegetable Farm” at ASA, CSSA and SSSA International Annual Meetings (2015), Synergy in Science: Partnering for Solutions, Minneapolis, MN, Nov 15-18, 2015

  • “Environmental Footprint of Organic Farming” Tilth Producers of Washington 2015 Annual Conference, Building Tilth: Fields, Farmers, and Community, Spokane, WA, November 13-15, 2015

2015 – C3 The Environmental Footprint of Organic Farming


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

  1. Public release of organic farming carbon footprint calculator,
  2. Engaging hundreds of farmers in Pacific Northwest region through Tilth conference and Agriculture in a Changing Climate Workshop. Farmers were trained on how to use the Ofoot tool at Tilth Producers of Washington Conference.
  3. Engaging scientists and educators through participation in ASA, CSSA and SSSA International Annual Meetings and The International Society for Ecological Modelling Global Conference.
  4. Development of deductive rotational method for calculation of soil emissions attributable to a crop in farm rotation.


Cornelius Adewale
graduate research assistant
Washington State University
PO box 646420
201 Johnson Hall
Pullman, WA 99164-6420
Office Phone: 5093394173