The non-stop use of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers has led to enormous progress in farming. These components have indeed made various crops available in larger quantities. However, their excessive use of them had severe consequences for the soil and the entire ecosystem. Typically, such a negative influence on the environment makes organic farming more necessary.
Simply put, this farming method relies on natural and biological elements throughout the process. If you want to know more about organic farming, keep reading this blog. We will discuss different aspects of organic agriculture, including its definition, importance, and history. Moreover, you will get to know its requirements and even challenges. So, stay tuned.
What is organic farming?
Organic farming is a system that aims at avoiding (or at least minimizing) the intervention of chemicals. It also eliminates the use of genetically engineered elements in the crop production process. This type of farming relies on using alternatives to chemical fertilizers to fertilize the soil. This includes manures, residues of harvested crops, and biological fertilizers.
The importance of organic farming
Organic farming is able to make the planet a better place to live. It can affect the quality of food we eat, including vegetables and meat. Organic agriculture maintains clean water and ensures water conservation. This type of farming adopts strict and effective irrigation methods. There is no need to mention that organic cultivation is reliable in reducing the dependence on petrochemicals in producing fertilizers and pesticides.
A brief history of organic farming
The beginning of the 20th century witnessed the development of the organic farming concept. James Walter, who was an English baron, was the first to introduce this term. He published a book about this concept in the early 1940s. But it was not until the 1960s that the public became aware of this concept. The credit for this can go to the writings of Rachel Carson, such as her book Silent Spring.
During the early 1980s, the U.S. government started adopting and supporting this farming trend. In the 1990s and 2000s, local and international markets witnessed an increase in organically labeled products. In fact, each year, the overall amount of organic produce is increasing despite some difficulties and challenges.
Benefits of organic farming
Organic farming helps the environment on many levels. Implementing its techniques leads to improvements in the quality of the soil and the nutrition of both humans and livestock. No need to mention the enhancement of the quality of water. So, generally, organic farming can have various benefits on different levels, including health, environmental, and economic levels.
1. Health benefits of organic farming
Consistent use of chemical pesticides can have a harmful influence on farmers as well as consumers. Typically, these substances consist mainly of toxins, which can find their way into the human body through ingestion or the skin. These toxins can also remain in the soil, in the air, or in the water.
So, farmers, their families, and their neighbors are at serious risk of unintentional consumption of these harmful chemicals. It goes without saying that livestock and birds consuming such crops will have residues of these unhealthy substances in their systems.
2. Environmental benefits of organic agriculture
The impact of adopting organic agriculture affects the environment on countless levels. It makes the soil, air, and water better.
Improving the soil quality
Excessive use of chemicals is undoubtedly bad for the environment, but do you know how bad it is? Well, you can’t really count these damages, but the good news is they are reversible through implementing organic agriculture. Replacing these synthetic chemicals with compost, manure, and green fertilizers prevents soil degradation. Also, committing to a crop rotation strategy will enrich the soil with more nutrients that increase its natural fertility. Avoiding chemical fertilizers allows the soil to strengthen and heal itself on its own.
Another notable benefit of adopting these organic strategies is that they reduce the chances of erosion. As the soil gets healthier, erosion is less likely to hit it. Chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, on the other hand, will gradually make the soil dry out. This situation is ideal for erosive factors to take over.
Preventing water loss and pollution
Lastly, organic cultivation ensures cleaner water, as there are no chemicals involved. On the contrary, conventional farming lets contaminants and toxins run off with the water. Moreover, organic methods aim at regulating water consumption through irrigation. So, the water is cleaner, and there is little to no runoff.
3. Economic benefits of organic cultivation
Turning to organic farming is not just an eco-friendly or healthy choice. It is a cost-efficient farming strategy, too. There will be no need to buy synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, which cost a larger chunk of money. In fact, pesticides are getting more expensive each year, while pests are becoming more resistant to most pesticides. So, farmers are always on the hunt for more invasive and typically expensive chemical products.
Another great perk of using organic cultivation methods is achieving sustainability. As the soil remains healthy, this allows the farmer to grow more crops. Thus, farmers can harvest and sell more with healthy soil without fearing erosion or degradation.
Organic farming will not expose farmers to toxins, which reduces their chances of getting sick. Subsequently, this will translate into more productivity. Also, the farmers will not have to spend money on treatment and medications.
Organic farming practices
The concept of organic farming has more to offer than just taking chemicals out of the equation. It has diverse methods and practices that help everyone involved in or benefiting from the farming process. Here is an in-depth look at the basic practices of this type of farming.
1. Soil Management
In organic cultivation, soil management refers to all steps and procedures aimed at improving the wellness of the soil. This includes increasing its fertility and natural nutrients. Organic techniques that end up boosting soil fertility focus on adequate watering and minimizing pollutants. Also, these techniques will guarantee proper pH levels that suit the type of crop being planted. In some cases, a crop will need more acidity, like berries, whereas other crops will need increased alkalinity, like broccoli.
Along with these levels, an organic farmer should pay attention to organic matter levels. This simply means the levels of nitrogen in the soil. With restrictions on using artificial suppliers of nitrogen, a farmer will seek more natural practices to provide this crucial nutrient. This includes biological fertilizers, crop diversity, rotation, and cover.
2. Pest and disease management
Pests and insects are integral parts of any type of Conventional farming is focused on killing any type of pest or insect that could attack crops. This includes the good and harmful types equally. The main purpose for using pesticides in conventional farming is to prevent these insects or pests from consuming and damaging crops. On the contrary, organic farming is keen on preserving all types of life around the crops.
Typically, this does not mean allowing them to destroy the farms. However, this organic farming technique follows other effective ones without destroying the ecological balance. For instance, organic farmers would add cover crops to protect their original crops.
3. Focusing on crop rotation
Conventional farming usually focuses on yielding a single crop, as opposed to organic farming, which focuses on diversifying the crops. Simply put, this means that each growing season, there would be a new crop on the land. This is another way that organic agriculture boosts biodiversity as well as soil wellness. This is not done randomly but according to the condition of each piece of land. Crop rotation is an organic technique that increases the quality and quantity of yields. It has also proven efficient in fighting erosion.
4. Use of natural fertilizers and compost
Turning to organic agriculture means forever giving up on chemical and synthetic fertilizers. Instead of these industrial components, you will find more natural substitutes, such as manure and compost. This type of natural fertilizer comes from what we often consider “waste”. This applies to leaves, discarded food scraps, animal waste, and even straws.
This type of biological waste is processed and mixed together with the addition of oxygen. This results in rich soil nutrients consisting of carbon and nitrogen. This final product will not only increase the soil’s fertility but also decrease its carbon footprint.
Composting will decrease the need for conventional synthetic fertilizers. Producing these fertilizers requires using petrochemicals and similar fossil fuels. This subsequently leads to increased emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. In fact, each year, these fertilizers contribute around 1.5% of the global emissions of carbon dioxide.
5. Sustainable irrigation practices
Organic farming aims to conserve water as part of its commitment to ecological balance. This means a better approach to watering the crops. In general, organic farmers are keen on reducing water loss through evaporation and runoff. This is why they integrate mulch to stop water from running off.
Additionally, organic growers rely on organic manure to fertilize the soil instead of uncontrolled watering. Moreover, they tend to avoid watering when it is too sunny. They can water in the early mornings or at sunset. This significantly decreases the chances of water evaporation.
Organic farming certification
In the U.S., you can’t sell organic products that are not certified or labeled as organic. Your word is not enough to make these products genuinely organic. The United States Department of Agriculture has created specific rules and regulations to determine whether a farm or a processing facility is organic. These facilities hold a recognized accreditation. This accreditation is issued by USDA-approved certifying agents. These agents will ensure that a specific farm or facility fulfils all the necessary requirements.
According to the USDA and its National Organic Program (NOP), there are only five steps to being acknowledged as an organic grower or producer. Here is a quick overview of these steps:
1. Preparing your plan
If you have a farm or a processing facility, you will have to prepare a detailed plan to go organic. The plan should include specific details about your adoption of organic techniques. As each farm can differ in its conditions, the details can vary. However, the general regulations are always the same. This is why plans can include some differences in their details. Yet, the terms for growing, processing, storing, and even transporting won’t change at all. So ensure that your plan complies with USDA requirements.
2. Reviewing the plan
Once you are done marking your plan, it’s time for an official review. You can easily find the location of a certifying agent nearby. Then, the agent will review the application and the plan’s details. Their role is to verify that your plan matches the already-stated organic requirements of the USDA.
3. Time for on-site inspection
If things are acceptable on the paperwork, then an assigned inspector will pay your facility a visit. This visit is all about ensuring that your facility meets all the organic requirements. The inspector will inspect all your organic practices and methods. Once the inspection is finished, the agent will issue a report.
4. Final review
After the inspection, the agent will review your original application along with the inspection report. This is a final review before giving the verdict.
5. Getting Certified
If the paperwork and the inspection report show your facility’s compliance with the regulation, then the agent will certify your facility. This means your products will have an organic seal to make consumers aware of their nature. However, there will be routine inspections that could be conducted once a year or more.
The importance of certification
Having the USDA organic seal on your products gives them more value and a better price. All over the world, organic products are more expensive than those grown on chemicals. Moreover, organic products have a better reputation for being healthy and truly eco-friendly. Another great perk of producing organic food and products is having access to government funding programs aimed at supporting this green farming style.
Labeling organic products is a process that is the responsibility of NOP certifying agents. Labeling requirements include:
– Getting the USDA organic certification.
– Growing or processing without the intervention of any prohibited techniques such as GMO.
– Growing or producing without additives except salt and water (for a 100% organic label).
Challenges of Organic Farming
Despite all the positive aspects of organic agriculture, this farming style is not spreading as widely as it should. This is due to various challenges and obstacles standing in the way. For instance, pests will always find their way to the crops. Moreover, the higher cost of producing and selling organic products can stand in the way of marketing them.
1. Higher cost
Making organic compost is not a real challenge, as any grower can produce it at their farm. However, the lack of know-how and sufficient labor can make the cost higher. Typically, not all farmers are aware of the science of mixing waste with oxygen to make compost. The same applies to green insecticides and weed killers as well as all other organic components.
2. Marketing Challenges
The higher cost of organic products makes it harder to market them compared to conventional products. For many consumers, healthier veggies or meats won’t be as lucrative as a more affordable alternative.
Another huge market obstacle is having a shorter shelf life. Being free of any chemical additives makes organic food more prone to decay. Moreover, the slightest mistake in storage or improper temperature settings can make the shelf life even shorter. All these factors can make many grocery store owners hesitant about introducing these products to consumers.
3. Limited Productivity
Despite its obvious sustainability, organic farming is not as productive as the conventional method. The latter has more yields. In some cases, conventional farming produces around 20% more crops than the organic alternative. This is associated with lower profitability compared to the cost. Also, the limited marketing as well as the shorter shelf life contribute to the productivity challenge.
Organic farming can make the planet better on many levels. It encourages the green fertilization of the soil and the recycling of waste. Moreover, it encourages the wise use of clean water. There is no need to mention that organic farming positively affects the wellness and quality of livestock. All this can make human health and overall life better.
However, there are significant challenges facing this eco-friendly food production method. This includes costs, marketing, and productivity. Yet, organized planning from producers and ongoing support from governments can make these challenges less severe.
More importantly, consumers play a significant role in supporting organic farming. Buying these healthy products will not only improve your health but will also give you a better taste. Subsequently, buying more organic products and increasing awareness about them will encourage more growers and producers to go down this path.
Despite all these challenges, organic farming is now an essential part of the modern cultivation scene. Those obstacles won’t make it go away, as it is now one of the top ways to fight global warming and increased carbon footprints. So, it is not a luxury to implement organic farming techniques. In fact, over the next few years, more and more growers will adopt these green techniques.