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Organic cultivation of mixed vegetables in Capay, California. Note the hedgerow in the background.
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Organic farming is a form of agriculture that relies on ecosystem management and attempts to reduce or eliminate external agricultural inputs, especially synthetic ones. It is a holistic production management system that promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity.

In preference to the use of off-farm inputs, organic farming emphasizes management practices, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. Utilizing both traditional and scientific knowledge, organic agricultural systems rely on agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods (these may require external inputs of nonrenewable resources, like tractor fuel), as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfill any specific function within the system. Organic farming is also associated with support for principles beyond cultural practices, such as fair trade and environmental stewardship, although this does not apply to all organic farms and farmers.

OverviewEdit

Organic farming excludes the use of synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In many countries the use of veterinary drugs is excluded. In a number of countries, including the US, Bulgaria, Iceland, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Argentina, Costa Rica, Tunisia, and in the EU, organic farming is also defined by law, so that the commercial use of the term organic to describe farming and food products is regulated by the government. Where laws exist, organic certification is available to farms for a fee, and it is usually illegal for a non-certified farm to call itself or its products organic. Elsewhere, for example, in Canada, voluntary certification is available, while legislation may be pending.

Methods of organic farming vary. However, organic approaches share common goals and practices. In addition to the exclusion of synthetic agrichemicals, these include protection of the soil (from erosion, nutrient depletion, structural breakdown), promotion of biodiversity (e.g. growing a variety of crops rather than a single crop), and outdoor grazing for livestock and poultry. Within this framework, individual farmers develop their own organic production systems, determined by factors such as climate, market conditions, and local agricultural regulations.

It is important to make the distinction between organic farming and organic food. Farming is concerned with producing fresh products—vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy, eggs—for immediate consumption, or for use as ingredients in processed food. The manufacture of most commercially processed food is well beyond the scope of farming.

It is also important to note that organic farming is a reaction against the large-scale, chemical-based farming practices that have become the norm in food production over the last 80 years. The differences between organic farming and modern conventional farming account for most of the controversy and claims surrounding organic agriculture and organic food. Until recently, the comparison looked something like this:

  Organic Conventional
Size relatively small-scale, independent operations (e.g. the family farm) large-scale, often owned by or economically tied to major food corporations
Methods no use of purchased fertilizers and other inputs; low mechanization of the growing and harvesting process intensive chemical programs and reliance on mechanized production, using specialized equipment and facilities
Markets often local, direct to consumer, through on-farm stands and farmers' markets (see also local food), and through specialty wholesalers and retailers (eg: health food stores) wholesale, with products distributed across large areas (average supermarket produce travels hundreds to thousands of miles) and sold through high-volume outlets

The contrast is as much economic as it is between methods of production. Until the last decade, organic farming has been typically small business, often based in local economies, whereas conventional farming is big business (often called agribusiness, or, negatively, corporate farming) that is closely integrated with all aspects of the global food industry. However, the situation is changing rapidly as consumer demand encourages large-scale organic production.

The development of modern organic farming techniques is also a function of economics. Most of the agricultural research over the last century has concentrated on chemical-based methods— little funding and effort have been put into using current scientific tools to understand and advance organic agricultural approaches.

Principles of plant cultivation, in many situations identical to those of organic farming, are applied—usually, though not necessarily, at a smaller scale—in the practice of organic horticulture.

HistoryEdit

Main article: History of organic farming

The organic movement began as a reaction of insiders (agricultural scientists and farmers) against the industrialization of agriculture. For some time it remained below the awareness of the food buyer. As the contrasts between organics and the new conventional agriculture grew, so to did public awareness of organic farming. This led to a distinct organic market, and, eventually, a grassroots consumer cause.

Advances in biochemistry, (nitrogen fertilizer) and engineering (the internal combustion engine) in the early 20th century led to profound changes in farming. Research in plant breeding produced hybrid seeds. Fields grew in size and cropping became specialized to make efficient use of machinery and reap the benefits of the so-called “green revolution.”

While some indigenous cultures had been farming organically for centuries, organic agriculture began to develop consciously in Central Europe and India in the early twentieth century as a reaction to industrialization. The British botanist, Sir Albert Howard often called “the father of modern organic agriculture” studied traditional farming practices in Bengal, India. He came to regard such practices as superior to modern agricultural science and recorded them in his 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament.

In Germany, Rudolf Steiner's Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture, published in 1924, led to the popularization of biodynamic agriculture, one of the first organic farming systems. In 1939 Lady Eve Balfour, influenced by Sir Howard's work, launched the first scientific, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming in England. Called the Haughley Experiment, it was documented by Lady Balfour in her book, The Living Soil. Its influence led to the formation of the Soil Association, a key international organic advocacy group.

The first use of the term organic farming is usually credited to Lord Northbourne, in his book, Look to the Land (1940), wherein he described a holistic, ecologically balanced approach to farming.

Technological advances during World War II spurred on post-war innovation in all aspects of agriculture, resulting in such advances as large-scale irrigation, fertilization, and the use of pesticides. Ammonium nitrate, used in munitions, became an abundantly cheap source of nitrogen. DDT, originally developed by the military to control disease-carrying insects among troops, was applied to crops, launching the era of widespread pesticide use.

During the 1950s, sustainable agriculture became a topic of scientific interest, although research focused on developing the new chemical approaches. In the US, J.I. Rodale popularized organic gardening among consumers.

In the 1970s, global movements concerned with the environment championed organic farming. As the distinction between organic and conventional food became clearer, one goal of the organic movement was to encourage consumption of locally grown food, which was promoted through slogans like "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food". In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), was founded in Versailles, France. IFOAM was dedicated to the diffusion of information on the principles and practices of organic agriculture across national and linguistic boundaries.

In the 1980s, various farming and consumer groups worldwide began pressing for government regulation of organic production. This led to legislation and certification standards being enacted beginning in the 1990s.

Since the early 1990s, the retail market for organic farming in developed economies has grown about 20 per cent annually due to increasing consumer demand. While small independent producers and consumers initially drove the rise of organic farming, increasingly organic market growth has led to the participation of agribusiness interests. As the volume and variety of "organic" products grows, production is increasingly large-scale.

MethodsEdit

Main article: Organic farming methods

Organic farming involves fostering natural processes, often over extended periods of time, and a holistic approach. Chemical-based farming focuses on immediate, isolated effects and reductionist strategies, often based primarily on the desire for profits. In large commercial operations, technology is used to regulate local conditions—hybrid seed, synthetic chemicals, high-volume irrigation—while sophisticated machinery does most of the work, and operators' feet may seldom touch the ground. Beyond the strictly technical aspects, the philosophy, day-to-day activities and required skill sets are quite different.

Enhancing soil health is the cornerstone of organic farming. This is a biological process, driven by microorganisms, that allows the natural production of nutrients in the soil throughout the growing season, and has been referred to as feeding the soil to feed the plant. A variety of methods are employed, including crop rotation, green manure, cover cropping, application of compost, and mulching. Organic farmers also use processed natural fertilizers such as seed meal, and various mineral powders such as rock phosphate and greensand, a naturally occurring form of potash.

Differing approaches to pest control are equally notable. In chemical farming, a specific insecticide may be applied to quickly kill off a particular insect pest. Chemical controls can dramatically reduce pest populations for the short term, yet by unavoidably killing (or starving) natural predator insects and animals, cause an ultimate increase in the pest population. Repeated use of insecticides and herbicides and other pesticides also encourages natural selection of resistant insects, plants and other organisms, leading to increased use, or new, more powerful, controls.

Pest control targets animal pests (including insects), weeds and disease. Organic farming tends to tolerate some level of pest loss, rather than aiming for total eradication. Organic pest control involves the cumulative effect of many techniques, including, allowing for an acceptable level of pest damage, encouraging beneficial organisms, careful crop selection and crop rotation, and mechanical controls such as row covers and traps. These techniques generally provide benefits in addition to pest control—soil protection and improvement, fertilization, pollination, water conservation, season extension, etc.—and these benefits are both complementary and cumulative in overall effect on farm health. Effective organic pest control requires a thorough understanding of pest life cycles and interactions.

Crop diversity is also characteristic of organic farming. Planting a variety of vegetable crops supports a wider range of beneficial insects, soil microorganisms, and other factors that add up to overall farm health, but managing the balance requires expertise and close attention.

Organic farms that raise livestock and poultry, for meat, dairy and eggs, provide animals with "natural" living conditions and feed. Ample, free-range outdoor access, for grazing and exercise, is a distinctive feature, and crowding is avoided. Feed is also organically grown, and drugs, including antibiotics, are prohibited by organic standards. Animal health and food quality are thus pursued in a holistic "fresh air, exercise, and good food" approach.

Horses and cattle used to provide labor, for hauling and plowing, fertility, through recycling of manure, and fuel, in the form of food for farmers and other animals. While today, small growing operations often do not include livestock, domesticated animals can enhance biodiversity and contribute to sustainability: the ability of a farm to function as a self-renewing unit.

Organic farming systems Edit

There are a number of formal organic farming systems that prescribe specific techniques. They tend to be more specific than, and fit within, general organic standards. Biodynamic farming is a comprehensive approach, with its own international governing body. Natural Farming is a no-till system for small-scale grain production. French intensive and biointensive methods that go beyond organic principles and approach sustainability.

Large-scale agriculture and organic farming are not mutually exclusive. For example, Integrated Pest Management is a multifaceted strategy that can include synthetic pesticides as a last resort—both organic and conventional farms use IPM systems for pest control.

StandardsEdit

Template:Main

Increasingly, organic farming is defined by formal standards regulating production methods, and in some cases, final output. Two types of standard exist, voluntary and legislated. As early as the 1970s, private associations created standards, against which organic producers could voluntarily have themselves certified. In the 1980s, governments began to produce organic production guidelines. Beginning in the 1990s, a trend toward legislation of standards began, most notably with the European Union.

An international framework for organic farming is provided by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the international democratic umbrella organization established in 1972. For IFOAM members, organic agriculture is based upon the Principles of Organic Agriculture and the IFOAM Norms.[1] The IFOAM Norms consist of the IFOAM Basic Standards and IFOAM Accreditation Criteria.

The IFOAM Basic Standards are a set of "standards for standards." They are established through a democratic and international process and reflect the current state of the art for organic production and processing. They are best seen as a work in progress to lead the continued development of organic practices worldwide. They provide a framework for national and regional standard-setting and certification bodies to develop detailed certification standards that are responsive to local conditions.

Legislated standards are established at the national level, and vary from country to country. In recent years, many countries have legislated organic production, including the EU nations (1990s), Japan (2001), and the US (2002). Non-governmental national and international associations also have their own production standards. In countries where production is regulated, these agencies must be accredited by the government.

Since 1993 when EU Council Regulation 2092/91 became effective, organic food production has been strictly regulated in the UK. (pdf).

In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established production standards, under the National Organic Program (NOP), which regulate the commercially use of the term organic.[2] Farmers and food processors must comply with the NOP in order to use the word.

ProductivityEdit

A 22-year farm trial study by Cornell University published in 2005 concluded that organic farming produces the same corn and soybean yields as conventional methods, but consumes less energy and contains no pesticide residues. However, a prominent 21-year Swiss study found an average of 20% lower organic yields over conventional, along with 50% lower expenditure on fertilizer and energy, and 97% less pesticidesTemplate:Ref. A major US survey published in 2001, analyzed results from 150 growing seasons for various crops and concluded that organic yields were 95-100% of conventional yieldsTemplate:Ref. Comparative yield studies are still scarce, and overall results remain "inconclusive".

The issue of productivity is more complex than a summary of yield (production per land area), which was the measure used in these studies. Instead, productivity could be calculated in labour time rather than by land area. Organic methods often require more labor, providing rural jobs but increasing costs to urban consumers. Also, grain forms the majority of world agricultural production, and most of that is fed to animals, not humans—broad calculations of how much agriculture is feeding people is therefore complicated when feeding animals to feed people is factored in.

The hidden costs of conventional agriculture are seldom addressed in productivity calculations. Conventional agriculture is based on importing energy, particularly in the form of fertilizer and other agrichemicals, machinery and fuel, and long-distance transport. The full cost of these inputs are not included. For example, maintenance of the airports and highways that allow easy transport are not factored into food costs. If airports were shut down, or highway systems compromised, however, there would be an immediate affect on the cost of food. More indirectly, it is argued that the cost of the side effects of chemical agriculture, like health care and environmental clean up, should be included in the cost of agribusiness. Instead, these hidden costs are paid by the public in other ways, such as through taxation to fund services like pollution control measures, and increased health care costs. Of course, many of these hidden cost factors are disputed, and they are difficult to investigate.

Related to this is the amount of money that actually reaches the farmer. Currently, large-scale farms receive around 10-20% of the supermarket retail price. The other 80-90% is absorbed by the food distribution system for processing, transport, packaging and marketing. The organic argument holds that more efficient distribution, through decentralization of production (e.g. family farm vs. factory farm), and development of local and regional markets, would put more money in the hands of farmers, allowing for increased productivity.

IssuesEdit

All aspects of organic farming and organic food are under debate. Environmentalists, food safety advocates, various consumer protection, social justice and labor groups, small independent farmers, and a growing number of food consumers are ranged against agribusiness and current government agricultural policies.

The controversy centers on the overall value and safety of chemical agriculture, with organic farming popularly regarded as the "opposite" of modern, large-scale, chemical-based, vertically integrated, corporate food production. As public awareness increases, there are a number of obstacles to an easy grasp of the overall situation.

In recent decades, food production has moved out of the public eye. In developed nations, where most of the world's wealth, consumption, and agricultural policy-making are centered, many are unaware of how their food is produced, or even that food, like energy, is not unlimited. If the methods used to produce food are rapidly destroying the capacity for continued production, then sustainable, organic farming is as crucial a topic as renewable energy and pollution control. This proposition is at the center of most organic farming issues.

It is useful to make a distinction between organic farming and organic food. Whether organic food is tastier, safer or more nutritious has little to do with the effects of chemical agriculture on the environment. In any case, most food dollars are spent on processed food products, the manufacture of which is beyond the scope of farming. There are separate food and farming issues and lumping the two together only confuses the discussion.

The distinction between organic farming and organic certification is also important. Defining organic farming with checklists of acceptable and prohibited inputs and practices elicits similar criticisms as those leveled at chemical farming. With rules come exceptions, whether well-intentioned or purely profit-oriented, and critics hold that this can only undermine organic principles. What is "more-or-less organic"? Certification also allows agribusiness to lobby for favorable definitions—anything that can be approved becomes "organic".

Of course, the issues, particularly the social ones, will shift if agribusiness fully adapts to and dominates organic farming, and (in early 2005) this is the current trend. Then, large-scale, certified organic farms would probably operate much more like conventional farms do today. Environmental benefits may accrue from a change in types of pesticides and fertilizer used, more crop diversity, and the like, but if the overall agribusiness philosophy remains essentially unchanged, "organic farming" could become the norm, without any great environmental or social improvements.

The following topics may be argued from both sides.

PesticidesEdit

Organic farming does not result in the release of synthetic pesticides into the food supply or the environment, but it does allow certain so-called natural pesticides, such as those derived from plants. Critics claim that many synthetic pesticides are improvements on natural pesticides, that they are less dangerous to humans and more environmentally friendly, and that the distinction between "artificial" and "natural" pesticides is arbitrary and has no bearing on their safety to humans and the environment. Organic advocates respond that they use natural pesticides as a last resort, growing healthier, disease-resistant plants, using cover crops and crop rotation, and encouraging beneficial insects and birds as the primary methods of pest control. The most common organic pesticides, accepted for restricted use by most organic standards, include Bt, pyrethrum, and rotenone.

Another argument against organic farming is that, while it works acceptably at present because pests are kept under control in surrounding conventional farms and thus do not spread into organic farms, if it became universal, the "islands" they operate on would disappear and pests would become a severe issue. This argument also works in reverse, as organic farms can be islands of safety for predator insects and pollinators, without which, more pollination services would be required, and ever-increasing quantities of pesticides would be needed as pest populations acquired resistance to pesticides (to a degree, in both instances this is already the case).

Workplace safety is a separate, related issue. Toxic agrichemicals create a hazardous work environment. Chemical accidents and the effects of long-term exposure are both well-known risks faced by many farm workers. Also, the effect of chemicals, airborne after spraying, and in the groundwater, on neighboring communities is a concern.

Genetically modified organismsEdit

A key characteristic of organic farming is its rejection of genetically engineered products, including plants and animals. On October 19, 1998, participants at IFOAM's 12th Scientific Conference of IFOAM) issued the Mar del Plata Declaration, where more than 600 delegates from over 60 countries voted unanimously to exclude the use of genetically modified organisms in food production and agriculture. From this point, it became widely recognized that GMOs are categorically excluded from organic farming.

"GMO-free" is also a popular marketing point for organic food. The general argument against is that no one has a clue as to the full impact of genetic engineering on food quality, plant or animal health: GE could be preparing our food supply for collapse. On the other side, the argument is that with a rapidly expanding global population, genetic engineering to create higher volumes of produce could be the key to ending world hunger. It also could be the key to creating healthier food, and ensuring proper nourishment, and has the potential to make farming more profitable, allowing agricultural industries to survive in increasingly service oriented economies. Often overlooked in this debate is the fact that genetic engineering is a technique, not an essential characteristic of the organisms it produces, and that humans have used selective breeding to modify crops and livestock for tens of thousands of years.

The contamination of organic farms with GM product, usually through pollination, is an important issue. Contamination may lead to products being incorrectly labelled as organic or GMO-free, or may reduce the value of crop as it cannot be sold as organic, leading to losses for the farmer.

The mechanism of cross-contamination is not understood, and only beginning to be studied. Meanwhile, cases of cross-contamination have been documented, while the extent is still unclear. A first-time study of genetic cross-contamination, published in Feb. 2004, found that at least two-thirds of conventional corn, soybeans and canola in the US contain traces of genetic material from GM varieties.Template:Ref Along with commercial GM crops, trials for new GM plants producing food, pharmaceuticals (pharmacrops) and industrial materials (eg: plastics), are being conducted in the US, Canada, and elsewhere. With the genetic engineering of alfalfa (not yet widely grown), a primary green manure fertilizer crop, not only primary crops, but the underpinnings of organic agriculture are threatened. It is conceivable that genetic contamination could make GMO-free farming next to impossible.

The environment Edit

The environmental argument, from the pro-organic view, holds that conventional agriculture is rapidly depleting natural resources, particularly fossil fuels and fresh water, and seriously polluting soil, water and air. Cited are the large quantities of agricultural chemicals in use (synthetic pesticides and fertilizers), water wastage through high-volume irrigation, heavy use of petrochemicals for farm machinery and long-distance transport, high densities of various waste products from concentrated operations, and the list goes on. While there is no argument that conventional agriculture relies on an abundance of these resources and creates a high volume of waste, agribusiness supporters (which naturally includes the majority of conventional farmers) argue that the negative claims are exaggerated or inaccurate. The fact that the current food industry exists and has fed the world for several decades is the biggest pro-argument to date.

On the flip side, large-scale organic operations that don't follow sustainable practices would require many of the same resources as conventional operations. For example, an organic farm that made heavy use of farm machinery and indoor production facilities (requiring artificial heat and light), and shipped to far-off markets, would still be a major consumer of energy resources. Also, it is debated whether an organic farm using natural compost and manure on a large scale would cause any less damage to ground water and soil than manufactured fertilizers.

Interestingly, many organic farms rely on inorganic manure to continue fertilization due to the large requirement for manure and relative unavailability of organic manure. This technically does not violate the traditional definitions of organic produce because there are no inorganic components added to the manure, although they may be present in its composition. Studies of the effects of chemicals within manure on organic produce is limited, although studies have shown that many carcinogens are present in variable amounts in even organic foodstuffs.

According to Dr. John Emsley, the former Science Writer in Residence at the University of Cambridge, an organically farmed hectare of land can feed approximately 10 people on an entirely vegetarian diet, they are not eating the cows, while a hectare of agrochemical enhanced land can feed up to 40. So, Emsley continues, the 40 people would be better served by farming one hectare intensely with chemicals while the other 3 are reserved for woodlands and wildlife. Emsley also emphasizes the affordability of the machinery necessary to produce the nitrogen rich chemicals that aid in conventional farming, stating that “[e]ven low-income countries can afford Haber−Bosch factories, and these should begin to turn around food production there, just as they did in high-income economies”. Emsley endorses organic farming only as a method of reclaiming nitrogen from animal leavings that would otherwise be wasted.

Next, author Anthony Trewavas of the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh claims that a conventional farm can match an organic farm “using only 50−70% of the farmland”. Because of this land is left over which is used for willow plantations, this woodland serves as a home for a wealth of wildlife. The willow is later cut and tended, or coppiced, to encourage the growth of many branches which are then used for fuel. Trewavas concludes that “[w]ith this novel conventional approach, now in commercial operation throughout Europe, total fossil-fuel use and carbon dioxide production are much lower than in organic farming, and because of carbon recycling it is much more sustainable”.

Food contaminationEdit

Some critics point out organic food could be less safe than non-organic food, by increasing the risk of exposure to biological contaminants and food-borne diseases. In particular concerns are related to the use of manure, well known for carrying human pathogens and presence of mycotoxins from molds. One large, influential French study, evaluating organic and conventional food during 1999-2000, warned that biological toxins in certain organic products (apples, wheat) should be closely monitoredTemplate:Ref. Food contamination is usually caused by unhygienic handling and storage, including use of contaminated water, which can occur on-farm, in transit, and at the point of preparation. And there is no general evidence of food contamination being caused or increased by organic farming practices.

Food qualityEdit

Although organic food is a topic in its own right, there are concerns related specifically to the quality of raw, fresh food. Without conclusive science either way, some organic supporters believe that the overall nutritional and health-promoting value of food is compromised by chemical-farming methods. This involves areas like micronutrients and trace elements, plant physiology, the way plants grow and the process of human nutrition. The common sense appeal is that food grown in unnatural, sheltered, chemically assisted ways isn't as "good" for people as "naturally grown" food, as some things are different or missing. The counter-argument is that, by currently accepted standards of food science, there has been no demonstration of a functional difference between organically and conventionally produced food, and that assisted food is actually healthier and thus, more nutritious.

Children's Health Edit

A 2001 study demonstrated that children fed organic diets experienced significantly lower organophosphorus pesticide exposure than children fed conventional diets. Additionally, in 2005 the EPA's "Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment" showed that children receive 50% of their lifetime risks of cancer during their first two years of life ([3]). These studies and others like it have helped spur a growing organic baby food trend in the United States. Mothers are more and more hesitant to feed their children potentially dangerous food, given that their small bodies are especially vulnerable to toxins.

Soil conservationEdit

The practice of ploughing (see tillage) to prepare soil for planting is claimed to increase soil damage compared to using herbicides, like glyphosates. In fact, this argument applies primarily to large-scale, chemical-based agriculture, where huge areas are repeatedly tilled and planted with the same crops. By using artificial fertilizer rather than replacing organic material, the soil structure is progressively destroyed, and becomes increasingly susceptible to wind and water erosion. Use of herbicides to kill weeds, instead of plowing them under, may present a short-term solution to this problem. However, repeated use of herbicides also kills microorganisms that contribute to the decomposition of plant residues that help rebuild the organic matter that holds the soil together. It also encourages the selection of the most herbicide-resistant weeds, which necessitates increased herbicide use.

Government subsidiesEdit

Some organic farming advocates believe that, even if yields are currently lower, these results are obtained without the huge subsidies paid to conventional farmers, and expect yields to be equivalent or higher if organic farming were subsidized to the same level.

It should be noted that the conventional, chemical-based approach is also widely practiced in countries that do not heavily subsidise their farmers, such as Australia.As well as many other countries which are not mentioned here.

Rural infrastructure Edit

Critics condemn agribusiness practices for putting small, independent farmers out of business, destroying rural communities in the process, and causing the "art of farming" to be lost. According to these critics, small-scale organic farming encourages local economies, and provides social and employment alternatives to concentrated, energy-dependent urban living, thus improving the quality of life for everyone.

As discussed previously, the entry of large-scale businesses into production of organic food undermines the belief that a preference by consumers for organic food will necessarily translate into a substantive change in the nature of agribusiness. This is where the distinction between organic farming, organic food, and organic certification becomes tricky. If the strong consumer trend represents simply the desire for an "organic" stamp on their food, then the trend to large-scale, global, corporate farming, certified organic or not, will continue. If consumers embrace a broader concept of "organic", which includes fresh, local food, substantial changes in the food industry would have to follow to meet this demand.

SustainabilityEdit

Although it is common to equate organic farming with sustainable agriculture, the two are not synonymous. Sustainability in agriculture is a broad concept, with considerations on many levels, such as "environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity."Template:Ref With regard to organic farming methods, one goal of sustainability would be to approach as closely as possible a balance between what is taken out of the soil with what is returned to it, without relying on outside inputs. An organic operation that imports the manure it uses to replace the nutrients taken out of the soil by crops, must factor in the resources required to produce and transport that manure, when calculating sustainability. Organic farming today is a small part of the agricultural landscape, with a relatively minor impact on the environment. As the size of organic farms continues to increase, a new set of large-scale considerations will eventually have to be tackled. Large organic farms that rely on machinery and automation, and purchased inputs, will have similar sustainability issues as large conventional farms do today.

CertificationEdit

Organic certification, particularly where mandated by law, as in the US and the EU, is increasingly being seen by individual organic farmers and consumers as a contentious issue. Where the push for regulation was originally a grassroots effort by organic producers and buyers looking to uphold standards and prevent fraud, the complex regulations and opportunities for loopholes that have emerged have lead to charges being levelled against major certifiers and government programs. In the US, where standards became law in 2002, serious complaints have been lodged with the USDA against the largest US certifying agency, and the USDA itself has been taken to court, based on such challenges. A leading US proponent of organic farming, Eliot Coleman, who served as an adviser to the USDA during the drafting of the original organic guidelines in the US in the 1980s, and served a term as Director of IFOAM, more recently stated: "The label 'organic' has lost the fluidity it used to hold for the growers more concerned with quality than the bottom line, and consumers more concerned with nutrition than a static set of standards for labeling."[4] Concern about the "watering down" of standards to facilitate large-scale production is currently a significant aspect of organic farming regulation.

The futureEdit

Organic farming is at a crossroads. Despite the growth in the organic food market over the last decade, the future of the small, independent farmer, organic or otherwise, is as much in jeopardy now as it has been in recent decades. The local infrastructure to support small farmers is all but non-existent in most developed nations - the current food distribution system favors high-volume production, and large farming operations. What is commonly known as "organic farming" may change quite dramatically in the coming few years.

Organic farming is now gaining popularity and is being accepted by people all over the world. In Deborah Koons Garcia's film The Future of FoodTemplate:Ref, it is stated that the American market for organically grown food amounted to $1 billion in 1994, and $3 billion in 2003. A growing consumer market is naturally one of the main factors encouraging farmers to convert to organic agricultural production. Increased consumer awareness of food safety issues and environmental concerns has contributed to the growth in organic farming over the last few years.

ReferencesEdit

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See alsoEdit

  • Permaculture
  • WWOOF - World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, an organization which facilitates placement of volunteer workers
  • neem cake - Neem Cake Organic Manure

External linksEdit

Regional and special interest:

Studies:

Smallwikipedialogo.png This page uses content from the English-language version of Wikipedia. The original article was at Organic farming. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with PermaWiki, the text of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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