Organic farming is a technique that involves animal rearing and cultivation of plants using entirely natural methods. These methods make use of biological materials while avoiding synthetic substances. The soil fertility is maintained, ecological balance is achieved, and there is minimal pollution and wastage.
It is heavily reliant on agricultural principles that are ecologically balanced such as green manure, crop rotation, and biological pest control, organic waste and mineral additives. The only fertilizers used in organic farming are those that are considered natural. Petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides are avoided completely.
With the drastic increase in world population and food provision for the world become more difficult, sustainable farming is the answer. Climate change and pollution are negative effects of using chemical based fertilizers. The market for organic farming and products has been steadily growing and it was reported at $63 billion worldwide by 2012. Mainstream agronomist have also acknowledged that intensive farming methods generates run off with poisonous chemicals and results in irreversible soil erosion which can create problems to the ecosystem.
Organic farming practices
In organic farming taking care of the soil involves planting cover crops such as rye or clover in between harvests to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Another benefit of using cover crops is that they retain moisture, keep down weeds, and prevent soil erosion. If they are ploughed back into the soil at the end of the season, they boost the nitrogen content of the soil. This eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers.
There is also a low-till approach based on organic farming practices. In this technique, farmers plant nitrogen fixing crops in between seasons and between their rows of cash crops. This ensures the soil is not left exposed to erosion. However, low-tillage crops still rely on pesticides and nitrate fertilizers to boost production. Before they do any planting, they control weeds using broad spectrum herbicides. Seeds are then sown directly into the ground without having to do much tilling.
Low till approach has been adopted in both poor and rich countries. According to Pat Wall who is the head of Conservation at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico, almost 2% of global farming land is using this method. Most of it is in the United States. Farmers who use low tillage purport that it conserves the soil structure and reduces inputs related to energy.
Although they are still used, low tillage reduces the quantity of fertilizers used in farming. The cover crops planted in between fix nitrogen into the soil and with the buildup of organic matter, nitrates and nutrients are slowly released back to the soil. This reduces the need for fertilizers further.
However, for farmers who believe in pure organic farming, any approach in improving production with the use of synthetic chemicals is retrogressive. According to Peter Melchett, the policy director at Britain Soil Association, you can only use low tillage methods for weed control for up to three years. The weeds will then become resistance to the chemicals used. The farmer will be then left looking for stronger chemicals or do ploughing. As such low-tillage is not a long term or viable solution for farming.
Organic farming and high yields
People who oppose organic farming argue that it cannot produce sufficient amount of food to feed the globe. They purport that organic farming is meant for kitchen gardens and lots since it produces low yields. This could not be further from the truth because there is evidence available to prove that organic farming is fully able to produce food sufficient for all. It can be done from one generation to the next without harming the environment or depleting natural resources.
New research has proven that organic farming does not result to lower yields. Field specialists visiting farms in Germany have noticed that to have a higher yield during the initial years of organic farming, it is good to start off with a cover crop with high levels of nitrogen instead of a grain crop. The inference to this is that organic farming can match the quantities of food produced through chemical means.
There are some grocery stores which have started insisting that produce sold there has to be organically produced. Organic farming also goes a long way in protecting the environment. Although research in this field has not been adequately funded compared to the chemical based farming, organic farming remains the most viable and sustainable option for the future.