About 130 studies were analyzed to compare farm-level energy use and global warming potential (GWP) of organic and conventional production sectors. Cross cutting issues such as tillage, compost, soil carbon sequestration and energy offsets were also reviewed. Finally, we contrasted E and GWP data from the wider food system. We concluded that the evidence strongly favours organic farming with respect to whole-farm energy use and energy efficiency both on a per hectare and per farm product basis, with the possible exception of poultry and fruit sectors. For GWP, evidence is insufficient except in a few sectors, with results per ha more consistently favouring organic farming than GWP per unit product. Tillage was consistently a negligible contributor to farm E use and additional tillage on organic farms does not appear to significantly deplete soil C. Energy offsets, biogas, energy crops and residues have a more limited role on organic farms compared to conventional ones, because of the nutrient and soil building uses of soil organic matter, and the high demand for organic foods in human markets. If farm E use represents 35% of total food chain E use, improvements shown of 20% or more in E efficiency through organic farm management would reduce food-chain E use by 7% or more. Among other food supply chain stages, wholesale/retail (including cooling and packaging) and processing often each contribute 30% or more to total food system E. Thus, additional improvements can be obtained with reduced processing, whole foods and food waste minimization.

Derek H. Lynch, Rod MacRae, and Ralph C. Martin