Abstract Organic farming has shown better environmental performance than conventional farming in many studies; however, no systematic study into intensive, smallholder farming practices in Asia has been conducted. In this study, the energy efficiencies (EEs) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of organic and conventional soybean production systems in South Korea, and their major contributing factors, based on life cycle assessments (LCAs) are explored. Multi-level regression analyses and non-parametric comparison tests were applied to the data from 60 soybean farms, 30 of each production system. The results show that conventional farming (1.923 energy efficiency) is significantly more energy efficient than organic farming (1.046 energy efficiency). The energy inefficiency of organic farming is attributed to the excessive use of energy for fuel and mulch film, and smaller crop yields. Greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly different between the organic (2045.11 kg CO2 eq/ton) and conventional soybean-farming systems (1657.55 kg CO2 eq/ton). The surprisingly smaller EE and larger GHG emissions associated with soybean production in Korea, compared with those of large-scale farming, necessitates further research on the environmental performance of smaller farms in Asia.

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