Organic farming is promoted to reduce environmental impacts of agriculture, but surprisingly little is known about its effects at the farm level, the primary unit of decision making. Here we report the effects of organic farming on species diversity at the field, farm and regional levels by sampling plants, earthworms, spiders and bees in 1470 fields of 205 randomly selected organic and nonorganic farms in twelve European and African regions. Species richness is, on average, 10.5% higher in organic than nonorganic production fields, with highest gains in intensive arable fields (around +45%). Gains to species richness are partly caused by higher organism abundance and are common in plants and bees but intermittent in earthworms and spiders. Average gains are marginal +4.6% at the farm and +3.1% at the regional level, even in intensive arable regions. Additional, targeted measures are therefore needed to fulfil the commitment of organic farming to benefit farmland biodiversity. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.