What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming refers to agricultural production systems reliant on green manure, compost, biological pest control, and crop rotation to produce crops, livestock, and poultry. Organic farming is dependent on developing ecological biodiversity in the plantation farm to interrupt the habitation of pests and diseases, and ensuring meaningful maintenance and improvement of soil fertility. By all necessary means, organic farming does not allow the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, herbicides, or pesticides. All agricultural production are done organically and in the best natural way including the production of fibers, grains, vegetables, flowers, processed food products, and animal products such as milk, eggs, and meat.
In simple terms, organic farming is an agricultural practice aimed at attaining balanced ecological production management system that encourages and improves soil biological activity and biodiversity. It involves minimum use of synthetic chemicals and inputs outside the farm while ensuring management practices that preserve, replenish, and enhance ecological stability.
Organic farming also excludes antibiotic use in livestock, plant growth regulators, nano-materials and genetically modified products to attain the goal of environmental sustainability and enhancing ecological harmony. Some of the fundamental features of organic agricultural production systems include: natural livestock and crop production through submission to an organic system plan; detailed record keeping system for all the produce from the point of production to consumption; and use of buffer zones to prevent synthetic chemicals from accidentally contaminating bordering conventional farms.
As per the definition of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study team on organic farming and organic agriculture,
“Organic farming is a system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed additives etc) and to the maximum extent feasible rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, off-farm organic waste, mineral grade rock additives and biological system of nutrient mobilization and plant protection.
Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.“
Why is There Need for Organic Farming?
1. Organic Food Industry is Growing Fast and Guarantees High Profitability
Current market trends according to natural marketing institute reveals that organically produced products are becoming widely accepted throughout the world. Again, the institute underscores that over the past few years, the annual sales of organic products have increased three fold with increased establishment of natural food stores selling varieties of organic products. The farmers markets also offer commercialization of regionally and locally produced organic products. Accordingly, the retail sales of organic products are expected to continue rising in the coming years at a rate more than 20% yearly.
For instance, the estimated market value of certified organic products in 2001 was approximately $20 billion. As of 2002 it was $23 billion and more than $46 billion by 2007. The market had reached $63 billion worldwide by 2012.
The increasing variety of consumers spread all over the world have surely promoted the wider acceptance of organic products and made it to be the fastest growing agricultural sector. Majorly, the fast growth rate and high profitability level is attributed to the health benefits and the superior quality as well as taste of the organic products compared to the conventional agricultural produce. At the same time, people continue to receive awareness about the significance of organic food products and farming, transforming the agricultural sector into an attractive economic alternative.
2. Environmental Sustainability and Food Security
Attaining a friendly and green environment has always been a great concern worldwide and research discloses that organic farming can partly offer a solution. Long term studies about organic agricultural practice reveal it can provide an impressive mechanism for promoting ecological harmony, biodiversity, and biological cycles which are vital for environmental sustainability.
The definitive objectives of organic farming are founded on soil management and conservation, promoting nutrient cycle, ecological balance and conserving biodiversity. On this basis, the practices marvelously aid in building the capacity to mitigate the impacts of global climate change and contributing to environmental preservation. In addition to reversing global climate change impacts, organic agriculture can trim down emissions from fossil fuels mainly due to the use of cover crops and grass clovers in organic rotations.
Organic farming also saves up energy since its production methods are energy efficient compared to the conventional methods, thereby lessening depletion of natural resources used for generating energy. Besides, a recent study in Science-Digest stressed that promotion of organic farming can intensify yield production particularly in poor countries where inputs for conventional agriculture are highly expensive, thus contributing to increased food security.
3. Improvement of Human Health
Organic produce offer the safest products for human consumption than any other available food products. They contain lower levels of chemicals and do not contain modified ingredients compared to the conventional agricultural produce.
Organic standards set strict regulations to ensure final products for consumption are free from synthetic chemical components and genetically modified production technologies, or any other perceived natural toxins. As such, organic farm produce improves human health by ensuring risks to disease conditions like cancer, infertility, and immunodeficiency are minimized.
Key Features of Organic Farming
As stated earlier, the fundamental features of organic farming are based on maintaining a natural system that includes: natural livestock and crop production through submission to an organic system plan; detailed record keeping system for all the produce from the point of production to consumption; and use of buffer zones to prevent synthetic chemicals from accidentally contaminating the bordering conventional farms. Detailed discussions are listed below.
1. Natural Livestock and Poultry Production
By natural production, it means raising livestock and poultry for production of their products such as meat, eggs, and dairy by providing natural living conditions and feeds. Any forms of hormones, antibiotics, and medications are unacceptable, especially if used for promoting growth and productivity. Feeds have to be organic and livestock have to be pastured. Farm features such as using livestock for plowing, hauling, fuel, and even recycling their waste for manure are key aspects of organic farming.
The control of parasites and diseases is accomplished through preventative measures such as balanced diet, sanitary housing, rotational grazing, and stress reduction.
2. Natural Crop Production
Natural crop production encompasses crop diversity and organic systems for enhancing crop fertility as well as controlling pests, weeds and diseases. Organic farming requires a variety of crops that can support numerous and different types of beneficial soil microorganisms, insects, and promotes overall soil management for improved farm productivity.
Weed and pest management is to be done without the use of synthetic herbicides or pesticides respectively. Control measures should be through flame weeding, mechanical tillage, mulching, use of cover crops, crop rotation, mechanical tillage and hand weeding. Organic farming also needs to depend on predatory beneficial insects, beneficial soil microorganisms, companion cropping, birds, proper sanitation, and crop rotation for pest control.
In extreme cases of pest infestation, farmers can implement measures such as use of barriers and traps, mating disruption, biological pesticides, and insect predators. Soil biota, building soil structure, use of compost, and biologically based soil amendments are utilized to promote healthy plants that are tolerant and resist to diseases. Botanical measures can also be used to control diseases.
3. Soil Management
Organic farming extensively relies on nourishing the soil naturally by using compost, natural mineral powders and green manure. Crop rotation, inter-cropping and minimal tillage is also used to improve soil fertility, structure, and water holding capacity in organic farming. As a result, it helps to support the soil microbial activities that transform and release soil nutrients.
4. Buffer Zones and Record Keeping
Submission to an organic system plan is a key feature of organic farming. It requires the practice of buffering between organic farms and adjacent conventional farms. Keeping records of the entire farm activities is as well a necessity to ensure standard organic farming practice. It ensures proper sanitation, quality monitoring system for pests, parasites, diseases and productivity, and farm integrity.
Image credit: flickr , ugacommunications
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