Organic farming is a form of agriculture which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. As far as possible, organic farmers rely on crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and tilth to supply plant nutrients, and to control weeds, insects and other pests.
According to the International Organic Farming Organization (IFOAM) : "The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings."
Approximately 31 million hectares (75 million acres) worldwide are now grown organically.
"An organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm whose structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system that has the integrity, the independence and the benign dependence of an organism"
Organic farming excludes the use of certain synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In a number of countries, including the US, China and most of Europe 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 (for example growing a variety of crops rather than a single crop or planting hedges around fields), and outdoor grazing for livestock and poultry, though none of these is required in the United States to earn the USDA organic seal. Within this framework, individual farmers develop their own organic production systems, determined by factors such as climate, market conditions, and local agricultural regulations.
The organic movement began as a reaction of agricultural scientists and farmers against the industrialization of agriculture. 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 green revolution. 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.
In Germany, Rudolf Steiner's Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture, published in 1924, led to the popularization of biodynamic agriculture.
The first use of the term organic farming is by Lord Northbourne. The term is derived from his concept of "the farm as organism" and which he expounded in his book, Look to the Land (1940), wherein he described a holistic, ecologically balanced approach to farming.
The British botanist, Sir Albert Howard 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 and adopted Northbourne's terminology in his book "The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture" in 1947.
Lady Eve Balfour, author of the organics classic The Living Soil, established the pioneering Haughley Experiment on her Suffolk farm in 1939 that ran for more than 40 years.
In the US, J.I. Rodale popularized organic gardening among consumers during the 1940s.
The Japanese farmer and writer Masanobu Fukuoka invented a no-till system for small-scale grain production that he called Natural Farming. In the early 1940s.
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, meanwhile as the volume and variety of "organic" products grows, production is increasingly large-scale.
Characteristics of Organic Farming
The term holistic in often used to describe organic farming. Anthony Trewavas, in a nature-published article rejects the notion that a holistic view is superior to reductionist 'chemical' agriculture.
Enhancing soil health is the cornerstone of organic farming . A variety of methods are employed, including crop rotation, green manure, cover cropping, application of compost, and mulching. Organic farmers also use certain processed fertilizers such as seed meal, and various mineral powders such as rock phosphate and greens and a naturally occurring form of potash.
Pest control targets animal pests (including insects), weeds and disease. Organic pest control involves the cumulative effect of many techniques, including, allowing for an acceptable level of pest damage, encouraging or even introducing 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 [citation needed. Category:Articles with unsourced statements since May 10, 2007. Effective organic pest control requires a thorough understanding of pest life cycles and interactions.
Weeds are controlled mechanically, thermically and through the use of mulches.
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 the EU-Eco-regulation developed in the European Union.
In 1991, the European Commission formulated the first government system to regulate organic labeling. In one go, the European Regulation (EEC) 2092/91 set the rules in 12 countries, creating a huge market . Organic certification, which until then was a voluntary quality control system, became mandatory to all operations and was also to be applied for imports. In the meantime, Europe had become the most prominent market place for organic products and an increasing number of suppliers all over the world accepted this niche as a new challenge and a rewarding option to export high quality and high priced speciality products. All these supplies, of course, had to comply with the requirements of the European market and thus the Regulation (EEC) N° 2092/91 became a universal standard for organic production systems
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.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.
In India, standards for organic agriculture were announced in May 2001, and the National Programme on Organic Production (NPOP) is administered under the Ministry of Commerce.
In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established production standards, under the National Organic Program (NOP), which regulate the commercial use of the term organic. Farmers and food processors must comply with the NOP in order to use the word.
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 pesticides. 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 yields. 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 (for instance, in the United States, 80% of grain production is for livestock )—broad calculations of how much agriculture is feeding people is therefore complicated when feeding animals to feed people is factored in.
All aspects of organic farming and organic food are under debate by environmentalists, food safety advocates, various consumer protection, social justice and labor groups, small independent farmers to agribusiness, food consumers and government agricultural policies. 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 farming, but also of the value of organic farming's solutions.
The following topics may be argued from both sides.
Organic farming standards do not allow the use of synthetic pesticides, but they do allow the use of natural methods of protection from pests, such as those derived from plants. Organic advocates state that natural pesticides are a last resort, while growing healthier, disease-resistant plants, using cover crops and crop rotation, and encouraging beneficial insects and birds are the primary methods of pest control. The most common organic pesticides, accepted for restricted use by most organic standards, include Bt, pyrethrum, and rotenone. Some organic pesticides, such as rotenone, have high toxicity to fish and aquatic creatures with some toxicity to mammals including humans.
Critics argue that organic farms can work without using pesticides because pests are kept under control in surrounding conventional farms and thus do not spread into organic farms; if they became universal, the "islands" they operate on would disappear and pests would become a severe issue.
Workplace safety is a separate, related issue. Pesticides create a hazardous work environment. Chemical accidents and the effects of long-term exposure are both well-known risks faced by many farm workers.
Genetically Modified Organisms
A key characteristic of organic farming is 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. Opponents of GMOs claim that the impact of genetic engineering on food quality, plant or animal health isn't fully understood. Proponents argue that with a rapidly expanding global population, genetic engineering to create higher volumes of produce could play an important role in ending world hunger, without requiring additional land. It could also help, they say, to create healthier food, and to ensure 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 crucial difference between selective breeding and genetic engineering is that with selective breeding we choose from the existing gene pool for that species, whereas genetic engineering inserts alien genes from unrelated species. With selective breeding we are restricted to the species gene pool because four billion years of evolution has erected a species barrier across which genes may not easily pass.
The contamination of organic farms with GM product would lead to products being incorrectly labeled as organic or GMO-free, or would 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 fully understood, with studies still underway. Meanwhile, cases of cross-contamination have been documented, while the extent is still unclear. A first-time study of genetic cross-contamination, published in February 2004, found that at least two-thirds of conventional corn, soybeans and canola in the US contain traces of genetic material from GM varieties.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 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.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.
Organic farming may also have a detrimental effect on the environment. Conventional agricultural methods allow agriculturists to precisely apply only necessary fertilizers to soil, in order to minimize expenditures on fertilizers and to minimize waste pollutants. Such agriculturists may identify necessary fertilizers based upon what the soil needs in order to properly grow crops, then may mix custom fertilizer to meet that precise need. Organic farmers, on the other hand, may only apply certain substances as fertilizers, so they do not always have that option.Organic farmers largely depend upon fertilizers such as manure which contain fixed amounts of various elements. When applying sufficient manure to meet the soil's need for one element, an organic farmer will incidentally apply an abundance of another element, as the manure is not processed to balance its value as a fertilizer to the soil's needs. As such, the most commonly present elements in manure will be over applied, and cause a pollution hazard. This generally appears in the form of an abundance of nitrogen, which can contaminate waterways.
Many organic farms rely on manure that is not organic (meaning it comes from animals not fed and raised organically) to continue fertilization. This 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.
Some critics, most notably Norman Borlaug, contend that adopting organic farming methods on a global scale would be more detrimental to the environment than conventional farming. Borlaug asserts that if organic farming is to feed the globe, it will require a dramatic increase in cropland area, and that achieving this goal will ultimately lead to wide-scale deforestation. However, a report from the FAO indicates that "Sustainable intensification [of agriculture] in developing countries through organic practices would increase production by 56 percent" without requiring further conversion of wild lands to agriculture.
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. Critics pointed out that manure might contain human pathogens and 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 monitored.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. On the other hand, there has been no concrete evidence as of yet showing a direct link between organic farming practices and food contamination, and animal manure is also used extensively in conventional farming.
Healthy soils equals healthy food equals healthy people is a basic tenet of many organic farming systems. But the claims of nutritional superiority of food grown by organic methods over conventional grown food is the subject of much controversy. Without conclusive evidence 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. Further, there is some concern that due to the limited methods available to organic farmers for combating quality problems while adhering to organic standards, some organic food does not generally achieve comparable safety and quality standards as "conventionally" grown products. Preliminary data from a UN study based in the UK shows that although organic dairy may have higher somatic cell counts, conventional dairy cows may be treated more often with antibiotics than organic dairy.
There is extensive scientific research being carried out in Switzerland at over 200 farms to determine differences in the quality of organic food products vry conventional in addition to other tests. The FiBL scientific research institute states that "organic products stand out as having higher levels of secondary plant compounds and vitamin C. In the case of milk and meat, the fatty acid profile is often better from a nutritional point of view. As regards carbohydrates and minerals, organic products are no different from conventional products. As regards undesirable substances such as nitrate and pesticide residues, organic products have a clear advantage.
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.A 2001 study demonstrated that children fed organic diets experienced significantly lower organophosphorus pesticide exposure than children fed conventional diets. A similar but perhaps more convincing study in 2006 measured the levels of organophosphorus pesticide exposure in 23 preschool children before and after replacing their diet with organic food. In this study it was found that levels of organophosphorus pesticide exposure dropped dramatically and immediately when the children switched to an organic diet. These studies and others like it have helped spur a growing organic baby food trend in the United States. Parents are more and more hesitant to feed their children potentially dangerous food, given that their small bodies are especially vulnerable to toxins.
(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 can disturb the soil microflora and -fauna that contribute to the decomposition of the plant residues that help rebuild the soil organic matter content.. It can also encourage the build-up of resistances in weeds..
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.
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." 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 that large conventional farms do today.
One vocal critic in particular, Anthony Trewavas, has written detailed critiques of the sustainability of organic agriculture.
While organic agriculture aims to keep pesticide use to a minimum, it is a common misconception that organic agriculture does not use pesticides. Some pesticides used on organic farms contain the heavy metal copper, which can lead to copper accumulation in the soil. Other pesticides that are approved for use by organic producers include ryania, sabadilla, and rotenone. The botanical pesticide sabadilla is toxic to honeybees, and according to the California Department of Environmental Protection its mammalian toxicology has not been fully studied.Synthetic pesticides must be thoroughly studied before they can be placed on the market. Such studies are not required for the pesticides used in organic agriculture, but these can be as toxic.
John Kent, Lecturer in Agricultural Protection, from the School of Agriculture at Charles Sturt University in Australia supports the idea that organically grown food is not as sustainable, arguing that while organically grown food certainly has its place in today's free market, the world population could not be fed with pesticide-free agriculture.
Organic certification remains the only way of ensuring that there is a level playing field for producers and consumers that guarantees that certain quality standards have been met. Nevertheless, particularly where mandated by law, as in the US and the EU, certification is seen by some 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 led to charges being leveled 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." Concern about the "watering down" of standards to facilitate large-scale production is currently a significant aspect of organic farming regulation.
Initiatives by Govt & Others
Organic Farming in India
Organic farming aims at demonstrating the effectiveness of low cost agriculture there by increasing earnings from crops.Vermiculture and organic agriculture developed side by side in India. All India level operations were carried out to enable learning and development of organic agricultural practices for all kinds of Cereals, Pulses, Oilseeds, Spices, Vegetables and Fruits. The worldwide concern for uncontaminated food has promoted the cause of organic agricultural practices. Some significant observations:
The main reasons for Organic agriculture development and promotion are the initiatives taken towards vermiculture development and its promotion in India and Abroad.
Organic Farming Systems
There are several organic farming systems. Biodynamic farming is a comprehensive approach, with its own international governing body. The Fukuoka method focuses on a minimum of mechanical cultivation and labor for grain crops. French intensive and biointensive, methods are well-suited to organic principles. A farm may choose to adopt a particular method, or a mix of techniques.
While fundamentally different, large-scale agriculture and organic farming are not entirely 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.
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 Food, it is stated that the American market for organically grown food amounted to $1 billion in 1994, and $13 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.